Thinking Like A Data Scientist

By Bill Schmarzo 

Imagine my surprise when reading the March 28, 2016 issue of BusinessWeek and stumbling across the article titled “Lies, Damned Lies, and More Statistics.” In the article, BusinessWeek warned readers to beware of “p-hacking” which is the statistical practice of tweaking data in ways that generate low p-values but actually undermine the test (see p-value definition below). One of the results of “p-hacking” is that absurd results can be made to pass the p-value test, and important findings can be overlooked. For example…

A study from the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge[1] followed 17,000 Canadians over 12 years and found that those who sat for most of the day were 54% more likely to die of heart attacks that those that didn’t.

54%!? Yikes, that’s a scary fact. Proof that sitting kills you by heart attack. As a person who spends a lot of time sitting behind a desk, or on an airplane, or at sporting events, this “54% more likely to die of heart attacks” fact is very concerning.  Can I cheat certain death by throwing out my current desk and buying one of those expensive “stand up” work desks? Sounds like a bargain.

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