Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Shaking up the statistics community

A new book is gaining emotional reactions for the normally calm statistics community (no pun intended): The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbably by Nassim Taleb uses blunt language to critique the field of statistics, statisticians, and users of statistics. I have not yet read the book, but from the many reviews and coverage I am running to get a copy.

The widely read ASA statistics journal The American Statistician decided to devote a special section that reviews the book and even obtained a (somewhat bland) response from the author. Four reputable statisticians (Robert Lund, Peter Westfall, Joseph Hilbe, and Aaron Brown) reviewed the book, some trying to confront some of the arguments and criticize the author for making some unscientific claims. A few even have formulas and derivations. All four agree that this is an important read for statisticians, and that it raises some interesting points that we should ponder upon.

The author's experiences come from the world of finance, where he worked for investment banks, a hedge fund, and finally made a fortune at his own hedge fund. His main claim (as I understand from the reviews and coverage) is that analytics should focus more on the tails, or the unusual, and not as much on the "average". That's true in many applications (e.g., in my own research in biosurveillance, for early detection of disease outbreak, or in anomaly detection as a whole). Before I make any other claims, though, I must rush to read the book!
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