Friday, July 30, 2010

Lying with Numbers AND Quote of the Day

First, the quote of the day, from this article on a program for humanities students to go into medicine:
I didn’t want to waste a class on physics, or waste a class on orgo. The social determinants of health are so much more pervasive than the immediate biology of it.
Why didn't she just say important? Did she think pervasive would sound more intelligent. And why is she going into medicine if she wants to deal with things like sanitation, employment, and clean water in Africa?

At the beginning of the article the author mentions a study that showed the academic performance of the humanities students matched that of the traditional students. Presumably the implication is that you don't really need to "waste a class on physics" because it won't matter.

But that's not what the study showed at all because of selection bias.

Consider this example. I ask some biology majors at MIT and some physics majors at UF to take a test on E&M (Physics II or 8.02 at MIT). They end up scoring the same (no significant difference). Majoring in physics doesn't help you do well on physics, right?

No. MIT admits students largely on their ability to do well on test, esp. in the sciences. Since MIT students are smarter you'd hope they do better than public school students, perhaps even though they are being compared with a select group of them.

In the article the humanities students are probably smarter on average. Their average GPA is 3.74 and SAT is 1447. They'd probably mostly be competitive applicants at some of the top medical schools in the country. You'd hope they could hold their own, all else equal, with people admitted to a less competitive programs.

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