Stigler's new book challenges researchers to show him the numbers
The statistician argues that people, not numbers, lie. He values opinions
and theories that are backed by vetted evidence.
orchards and statistical theories may appear unrelated. But Stephen
M. Stigler, the Ernest DeWitt Burton distinguished service professor
in statistics and a member of the Committee on the Conceptual Foundations
of Science, has found a connection. The topics come up as he explains
the purpose of a wooden, rectangular box, filled with beads and rows
of tiny pins, that sits atop a filing cabinet in his Eckhart Hall office.
Called a quincunx, the first such box was made in 1873 for the scientist
Francis Galton, who designed it to provide a lesson in probability.
picks it up and demonstrates how the beads, by chance, consistently
form a bell-shaped curve as they fall through the matrix and bounce
off the pins. The arrangement of the pins-in groups of five, they form
rectangles with one pin at each corner and one in the middle-is the
literal definition of "quincunx." It also happens to be the same formation
used in planting trees in an orchard.
practice, as well as the name," explains Stigler, "goes back to the
ancient Romans. It maximizes the number of trees that can be planted
in a given area, while maintaining a minimum distance among them."
overlaps other seemingly divergent worlds with that of statistics in
his latest book, Statistics on the Table: The History of Statistical
Concepts and Methods (Harvard). The book collects Stigler's essays-some
previously published, others fresh or revised-on past debates and discoveries
that have involved the use of statistics. While Stigler calls his earlier
effort, The History of Statistics: The Measurement of Uncertainty
before 1900 (Harvard, 1993), a "treatise" on the development of
the discipline, he concedes that in the new book-intended primarily
for statisticians and quantitative social scientists-he goes "a little
bit afield," discoursing on the temperance movement, fingerprint identification,
probability, eponymy, and coin minting.
hope the book will spread awareness of the richness of the history of
statistics," he says. "I started out in theoretical work and then my
interest in the history of the subject grew as I saw how it gives me
and my colleagues and students a better understanding of the modern
subject. This field touches almost everything."
the introduction to Statistics on the Table, Stigler explains
that the book's title comes from a 1910 letter to the Times of
London written by Karl Pearson, a prominent English statistician whose
work has always intrigued the professor (one of the original calculators
used in Pearson's laboratory is now displayed on Stigler's desk). In
the letter, Pearson tells economists critical of his statistical evaluation
of how alcohol use affects child-rearing that if they wish to dispute
his findings, they must put their own "statistics on the table, please."
the first essay, Stigler documents the debate that raged among Pearson
and other scholars, including John Maynard Keynes, over the validity
of Pearson's conclusions that parental alcoholism does not necessarily
have disastrous consequences for children's health. The book's other
21 essays continue to underscore Stigler's larger point: Statistics
should indeed be on the table-and have been-in not only scientific but
also historical, literary, and religious arguments.
all public debates could benefit from statistical insights," says Stigler.
"Anywhere measurements are taken and policies made, statistics come
in. People point fingers at the misuse of statistics all the time, but
you shouldn't say the numbers are no good. Rather, it's that the lies
of the people using them are easier to point out when they're expressed
cumulative research for the book, which ends with a 42-page bibliography,
spans decades and took him all over the world. He scoured archives and
searched rolls of microfilm records at London's University College and
at American universities, including Harvard and the University of California,
Berkeley, his doctoral alma mater. He also traveled to Paris and Adelaide,
Australia, and corresponded with rare-book dealers who had copies of
relevant studies and other manuscripts. "There were a lot of surprises
along the way," he says. "Many of these essays were the results of surprises."
example, Stigler recalls how he came across the word "pyx" while catching
up on some reading at the beginning of a winter break in 1975. He wondered
why he had never before heard of such a perfect three-letter word for
Scrabble. His curiosity was piqued even more when he looked the word
up and discovered that it meant, according to Merriam Webster's Collegiate
Dictionary, either "a container for the reserved host" or "a box
used in a mint for deposit of sample coins reserved for testing weight
words "sample" and "testing" led him into an "intense two-week period"
in which he sought all the information he could find on the second meaning
of pyx. "It fortunately was during a break, when I could pursue it!"
he jokes. He eventually found himself in the vault of the Royal Mint
in London, examining materials from an ancient ceremony called the Trial
of the Pyx, in which sample coins placed in the pyx at the end of several
production cycles are taken out, counted, weighed, and assayed. "Here
I was being shown their most sacred treasures from a ceremony that has
been going on for 800 years," he recalls, noting that the trial provides
a rare example of a long-running quality-control program in which modern
statistical concepts such as sampling have been used since the Middle
says he is now "trying to come to grips with the tremendous and exciting
growth in statistics through the 20th century." He's interested in the
relationship between statistical methods and the questions they are
designed to answer in economics, genetics, and the social and physical
sciences. His current projects include researching the work of geneticist
and statistician Ronald A. Fisher, who advanced the design of statistical
experiments during the first half of the 20th century. He's also looking
at scientific literature to discern whether economists learn more from
statisticians or vice versa.
his practice of finding a statistical angle to just about anything,
Stigler is also addressing why golfer Greg Norman fell apart at the
end of the 1996 Masters Tournament, after leading most of the way. "He
was done in by a century-old statistical concept called regression,"
posits Stigler. The regression effect, he says, shows up when, for example,
tall parents have a child who is closer to average height or when a
student scores well on standardized tests but gets only average grades
a problem with measuring the degree to which people are really good
or just lucky," he says. "There's a neat example of this effect in golf
tournaments. There's a tendency for the measured performance of early
leaders to change over the course of a four-day golf tournament." He
plans to illustrate this point by gathering data on the scores of all
participants in five years of four major tournaments, and then modeling
the data to estimate the magnitude of the regression effect.
for Norman's 1996 loss, Stigler suspects, "his luck just ran out." -C.S.
The label "minority" is wholly inappropriate when applied to the Hispanic
population in the United States, says Pastora San Juan Cafferty, a professor
in the School of Social Service Administration and the Center for Latin
American Studies. Hispanics now constitute 11 percent of the nation's
population, she notes, and are projected to constitute one-quarter of
the population by 2050. But, she argues, it's not just the numbers that
make "minority" so misleading, "it is also the many ways that the diversity
of the Hispanic population mirrors our whole country's diversity."
Hispanics in the United States: An Agenda for the Twenty-first Century
(Transaction), Cafferty and co-editor David W. Engstrom, AM'83,
PhD'92, an associate professor of social work at New Mexico Highlands
University, call for U.S. policy makers to consider Hispanics as a microcosm
of American society and to recognize that the challenges facing Hispanics
also face society as a whole.
The U.S. Hispanic population is often regarded as a homogenous one because
of its shared Spanish language, notes Cafferty, who emigrated from Cuba
when she was 8 years old. But in fact, she says, Hispanics are racially
very diverse. If they migrated from the Caribbean, she explains, they
may be of European descent, or of European and African, or just of African
descent. Hispanics from North America and from Mexico may have a very
strong Native American background as well as European.
Cafferty says, the primary issues facing U.S. Hispanics-health care
for infants and children, education, and labor-market participation-are
matters important to the whole American population. "Because Hispanics
are the youngest group in our society, and given our labor market and
Social Security structure, Hispanics will be disproportionately supporting
the rest of us in the next century," she said in an interview with the
University's Chronicle. "So we're all better off if Hispanics
fare well educationally and in the labor market."
in the United States, due out in January 2000, expands on such themes.
Cafferty and Engstrom have compiled essays by social workers, lawyers,
economists, and others with insights into the demographics, characteristics,
and concerns of U.S. Hispanics. As editor, Cafferty says, she tried
to stay away from admonishing or exhorting public-policy makers. Rather,
the essays are meant to raise questions about how policy makers have
addressed the social problems of the Hispanic population. The writers,
she says, also approached their subjects-which include Hispanic history,
employment issues, and political involvement-with an eye toward creating
a policy agenda for the next century, not just presenting data analysis.
her own essay, Cafferty, who has a doctoral degree in American literary
and cultural history from George Washington University, examines language
retention within the Hispanic community and the many issues surrounding
that loyalty, including bilingual education. She asserts that Spanish
retention remains high among Hispanics because of the proximity of immigrants'
homelands, the pervasiveness of Hispanic heritage, and the segregation
patterns that have kept some Hispanics isolated in social and economic
ghettos. Yet Hispanics speak English as much and as well as other ethnic
groups, Cafferty says, and have been falsely placed in the center of
the English-only debate within U.S. schools and government.
previous books and articles have similarly sought to broaden decision-makers'
knowledge of immigrant populations. "The misconceptions that Hispanics
somehow are a unique migration, do not learn English, are recent immigrants,
are all Catholic-all these mythologies make for confused public policy,"
she says. "We must get away from stereotypes when setting a political
agenda and define the social problems, not respond to the stereotypes."
her next project, Cafferty plans to return to her literary roots and
explore diversity within popular fiction.--Molly
Dubbed a "master in small-town realism" by the entertainment-industry
magazine Variety, playwright Claudia Allen has been on campus
this fall teaching her craft as a part-time humanities lecturer, advising
students that "your life experience is what makes your stories unique
because nobody else has your life."
a resident playwright at Chicago's Victory Gardens Theater, has been
practicing what she preaches. Her sense of humor as well as themes taken
from her own life repeatedly show up in her writing. Her new play, Xena
Live!, is her latest contribution to Chicago's campy late-night
theater offerings. A theatrical spoof on the action-packed TV show Xena,
Warrior Princess, Allen's version is performed at Chicago's About
Face Theater and features a man in drag as Xena. It highlights the lesbian
subtexts in the TV show. Because some of her plays are "rather sedate
and set in the living room," Allen finds it exciting to incorporate
fight scenes into Xena Live!: warriors combat giant beetles in
areas like Ravens' Wood, named for the beetle-infested Chicago community
of Ravenswood, where Allen lives. Allen has also written and produced
several other parodies, such as Gays of Our Lives and A Gay
first discovered her love of playwriting during her college years at
the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where she earned both a bachelor's
and a master's degree in English. There, Allen distinguished herself
from classmates who were writing dormitory dramas by writing about a
middle-aged woman dealing with a deteriorating and aging mother. For
Allen, the theme of aging became a distinctive mark that would resurface
in many of her 18 plays. Winter, the latest of six of her plays
to have been produced by Victory Gardens, ran for more than a month
this past summer. Directed by Sandy Shinner, the play told the story
of a young couple, played by Tony Award-winner Julie Harris and Chicago
actor Mike Nussbaum, reunited in their old age.
always liked writing about older people because they've lived," says
the 44-year-old Allen, noting that she spent a lot of her childhood
in small-town Michigan "sitting on porches talking with old ladies."
At work on a screenplay based on the stage version of Winter,
Allen is also readying for a May production at Victory Gardens of her
newest play, Cahoots, a madcap comedy starring Sharon Gless,
of TV's Cagney and Lacey.
In 1994, Michael Roizen met a patient in his pre-operative clinic who
was being treated for elevated blood pressure. The 47-year-old man informed
Roizen, professor and chair of anesthesia and critical care at the U
of C since 1985, that many doctors wouldn't treat his borderline case
because it wasn't that serious.
Roizen explained, the patient's condition actually made his body function
as if he were five years older than if he had a blood pressure in a
more normal range. "You live with the arteries of someone who's 52,"
Roizen said, to the chagrin of the patient, Martin Rom. In fact, the
observation hit Rom so hard that, with Roizen, he soon started a company
devoted to determining "real age."
partners' RealAge, Inc., has since spawned a well-trafficked Internet
site, a best-selling book, a nationally syndicated column, and a second
book deal. Their RealAge method yields a "net present value" of age
that accounts not only for biological factors but also for 126 behavioral,
environmental, and social influences.
factors influence how well and how long you live, and you control over
70 percent of them," says Roizen. "I wanted to let people know there
are specific choices, the value of their choices, and that they can
control their health."
40 to 100 pages of health-related articles cross Roizen's desk every
day, so he is well aware of the need for clarity. "If I'm confused by
it, the public's got to be confused as well," he says. "And so what
RealAge tries to do is set criteria." The RealAge criteria fall into
three categories: things that increase your real age, things that decrease
your real age, and things that have no effect on your real age. The
RealAge methodology is based on data that give the "real" effect of
certain behaviors on the body. Flossing, for example, has a huge effect-6.4
years younger-on real age, says Roizen, noting that flossing is 300
times more powerful than getting a flu shot, which can have a mere six-day
effect. By contrast, he says, smoking can increase real age by as much
as eight years.
1996, RealAge launched a free Internet program (www.realage.com) to
spread the message. At the same time, Roizen decided to write a companion
book so that RealAge information would be available to everyone. RealAge:
Are You as Young as You Can Be? (Cliff Street Books) went through
53 versions, with each chapter reviewed by five physicians and three
scientists. Almost five million people have taken the RealAge test on
the Internet, and Roizen's book has topped the best-seller lists in
the United States, Great Britain, Canada, and Brazil.
November, Roizen began a syndicated column, "The Real-Ager," that has
been picked up by 11 newspapers, including the Philadelphia Inquirer
and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Currently Roizen is working on
a second installment of RealAge, called The RealAge Café: Eating
In and Eating Out to Keep Your RealAge Young.
goal in this is to change the health of the nation," Roizen says. "It's
not a small goal. But even if all you're doing is getting people to
realize how important lifting weights is or how important taking calcium
is, you're having a real effect. Is it changing the health of the nation?
No, but give it a little while."-B.B.
A research team led by U of C research associate Eve
Van Cauter has found that chronic sleep loss can reduce the
capacity of even young adults to perform basic metabolic functions.
As reported in the October 23 issue of Lancet, when the researchers
cut the standard eight hours of sleep down to four for 11 healthy young
males, they found that changes in metabolic and endocrine functions
resembled the effects of aging. They also suspect that lack of sleep
can increase the speed and severity of age-related problems, such as
diabetes, obesity, memory loss, and hypertension.
Jokes: Philosophical Thoughts on Joking Matters
(University of Chicago Press), philosophy professor Ted
Cohen, AB'62, takes a look at what aspects of humor either
make or break a joke. Cohen explores how jokes about sensitive issues,
such as Alzheimer's disease or death, can unhinge the listener's sense
of morality, while at other times, he writes, jokes can help one laugh
while taking a breather from "unbearable affronts like crude racism
and stubborn prejudice."
Through the last decade, support for education has risen to the top
of America's priority list, according to a new National Opinion Research
Center survey. Education spending has ranked first place in surveys
from 1990, 1996, and 1998, as compared to its rank of sixth (out of
11) in 1973 and 1975. Tom
W. Smith, PhD'80, director of the general social survey,
links the concern with shortcomings in the education system, the needs
of the information age and the global economy, and bipartisan support
for education initiatives.
Male salamanders produce a protein that chemically signals female salamanders
to speed up the courtship process and hasten mating, conclude researchers
led by graduate student Stephanie
M. Rollmann, SM'96, in the September 17 issue of Science.
By shortening the amount of courtship time, the salamanders decrease
the chance of being interrupted by predators or other males.
People who live in racially integrated neighborhoods are more likely
than those in mostly white areas to receive CPR from bystanders, say
U of C researchers in the October 1999 Annals of Emergency Medicine.
The chances of getting CPR are even less in a predominantly black neighborhood.
The reasons behind the findings are not clear, but team leader and Pritzker
T. Iwashyna, says the key point is that "neighborhood characteristics
appear to be more important than the characteristics of the cardiac-arrest
victim in explaining why people receive CPR."
Japan's lenders will be trimming down, predicts a National Bureau of
Economic Research study by Graduate School of Business associate professor
K. Kashyap and UC-San Diego professor Takeo Hoshi.
In response to new competition for both its deposit-taking and its lending
businesses, Japan's banking system is headed for a "massive contraction,"
say the researchers.
How do "schools of science" reproduce themselves over time? Do they
rely on rigid rules or exist as flexible structures? Sociologist Andrew
Abbott, AM'75, PhD'82, addresses such questions in his new
book, Department and Discipline: Chicago Sociology at One Hundred
(University of Chicago Press). Detailing the history of intellectual
rivalry and faculty politics in the Chicago School of sociology, Abbott
analyzes the shifts in social-scientific inquiry and explores the development
of modern-day scholarly publishing. --E.C.