CHANCE First-Year Tutorial

FALL 1993

Grinnell College

Tom Moore


Unit I. Public opinion polls.

Key Concepts

Populations and Samples.

Random sampling.

Sampling error and bias.

Margin of error.

Examples: Current polls from the news.

Census undercount.

Writing assignment: Find and critique the reporting of a poll by the press using the outline on page 41 of Moore's book.

Unit II. Clinical trials and other kinds of studies.

Key Concepts

Treatments and controls.

Random allocation.

Observational studies.

Confounding and Simpson's paradox.

Examples: Salk polio field trial. Kahneman -Tversky research.

Writing assignment: Find an article from the popular press that is about some new scientific study. Briefly describe the study in the news article. Assess the extent to which the article tells you enough to assess the validity of the study and generate a list of questionsthat would help you assess validity but are not answered by the article.

Unit III. Coincidences.

Key Concepts

Basic concepts in probability.


Examples: Personal experience.

News accounts.

The Salk vaccine field trial (P-value).

Writing assignment: Describe a coincidence in your own life and why you think it is a coincidence and what the likelihood of such an occurrence would be.

Unit IV. Data analysis and reporting numerical information.

Key Concepts

Basic statistical plots.

Misuses of statistical graphics. Principles of graphs and tables.

Examples: News articles.

Writing assignment: Find and critique a graph in the news.

Unit V. Deming and Quality.

Key Concepts

The Deming management philosophy.


Statistical control. Normal versus abnormal variation.

Examples: Field trip to local company.

Writing assignment: Based upon your brief tour of Company X, What would be Deming's three primary suggestions for improvement?



David Moore's ``Statistics: Concepts and Controversies".

Mary Walton's ``Deming Management Method" plus various articles from Chance magazine, the popular press, and other journals.

Class organization:

We will run class with a combination of class discussion, small group work, and class activities. Lectures by the instructor are all but forbidden.

The course must have a substantial writing component and so we require 4-5 short papers from the students plus a longer paper on a Chance topic chosen by the student.

I may also give the students a small data collection assignment to be done in teams.

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