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Accidental Learning April 11, 2007

Posted by gordonwatts in physics life.

Statistics and I have never really gotten along. Sure, I know the basic stuff, sqrt(N) errors, and when pressed I can rederive how you propagate errors. But when it gets right down to it? Not really.

During the single top analysis I ran into some very odd behavior that, I think, boiled down to statistical and interpretation issues. There was only one thing to do — dive in. In our single top group there are at least two people who know quite a bit about statistics. Whenever they would give talks I’d always have to download the slides and study them privately. Statistical issues can become complex fast and if you aren’t already versed in the lingo it is very easy to get lost.

So imagine my surprise when  I recently found myself in an email conversation with that expert in statistics and I understood the emails we were sending back and forth! I guess I learned a lot during those single top studies. I didn’t mean to. And I certainly wasn’t trying to learn for the sake of learning — I was just trying to solve an analysis problem I had. I know that that sounds silly.

But still, it feels good when you surprise yourself at how much you know as compared to how little you thought you knew*.

* do you love the English language as much as I love the English language?



1. Qian - April 11, 2007

I hope that someday I can surprise myself as you did. Though I still think myself knowing soooooooooo little.

2. Gordon Watts - April 11, 2007

Of course — that isn’t to say I’m feeling like an expert. Just that I suddenly knew more than I thought I did or than I was giving myself credit for! When it comes to statistics, there is always an approximately infinite amount of stuff to learn!

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