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Inferential Reasoning in Statistics

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PPDAC Problem, question, purpose for investigating Plan, Data, Analyse data, Draw a conclusion, justify with evidence

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When we are just beginning to learn how to reason comparatively we have to keep the principle of statistical inference, the link between sample and population, to the forefront.

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We need to be continually reminded that statistical inference requires us to invoke two quite distinct kinds of thoughts. We should have thoughts about the two samples and we should have quite different kinds of thoughts about the two populations from which those samples were drawn.

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We must distinguish between these two different ways of thinking and also be able to give a clear indication as to which one is happening. Through language we can clearly signal when we are verbalizing about what we see in the data (descriptive thoughts) and when we are verbalizing about thoughts which involve looking beyond these data to what may be happening back in the populations (inferential thoughts).

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The following has been adapted from Telling Data Stories: Essential Dialogues for Comparative Reasoning Maxine Pfannkuch, Matt Regan, and Chris Wild The University of Auckland, New Zealand Nicholas J. Horton Smith College, Northampton, MA, USA

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Descriptive thinking: Describe what can be seen in the samples. Inferential thinking: Make inferences about whether the patterns revealed by the samples might persist back in the two populations.

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Discussion Investigators analysed the sodium content of some beef (B) hot dogs and some poultry (P) hot dogs. Note: for beef hot dogs n=20, for poultry hot dogs n=17. Discuss in pairs what statements you would make from the box and whisker plots.

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What sort of statements did you want to make? – Did you describe what you can see in the samples? – Did you infer about what might be happening back in the two populations? – Did you consider sample sizes? Does it matter?

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The investigators made statements from the plots. Decide whether each statement is descriptive or inferential. Note for beef hot dogs n=20, for poultry n=17

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Descriptive or inferential The median sodium content for poultry hot dogs is 430 mg, almost 50 mg more than the median sodium content for beef hot dogs. Descriptive: Refers to the sample

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Descriptive or inferential The medians indicate that a typical value for the sodium content of poultry hot dogs is greater than a typical value for beef hot dogs.

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Descriptive or inferential The medians indicate that a typical value for the sodium content of poultry hot dogs is greater than a typical value for beef hot dogs. Inferential: Refers to the population

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Descriptive or inferential The range for the beef hot dogs is 392 mg, versus 231 mg for the poultry hot dogs Descriptive: refers to the sample

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Descriptive or inferential The ranges indicate that, overall, there is more spread (variation) in the sodium content of beef hot dogs than poultry hot dogs.

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Descriptive or inferential The ranges indicate that, overall, there is more spread (variation) in the sodium content of beef hot dogs than poultry hot dogs. Inferential: refers to the population

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Descriptive or inferential The IQRs for sodium content are 157.5 mg for beef hot dogs and 156 mg for poultry hot dogs. Descriptive: refers to the samples

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Descriptive or inferential The IQRs suggest that the spread within the middle half of the data for beef hot dogs is similar to the spread within the middle half of the data for poultry hot dogs.

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Descriptive or inferential The IQRs suggest that the spread within the middle half of the data for beef hot dogs is similar to the spread within the middle half of the data for poultry hot dogs. Inferential: refers to the population

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Descriptive or inferential The box plots also suggest that each distribution is somewhat skewed right.

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Descriptive or inferential The box plots also suggest that each distribution is somewhat skewed right. Inferential: refers to the population

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Descriptive or inferential Considering the degree of variation in the data and the amount of overlap in the box plots, a difference of 50 mg between the medians is not really that large.

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Descriptive or inferential It is interesting to note that more than 25% of beef hot dogs have less sodium than all poultry hot dogs. On the other hand, the highest sodium levels are for beef hot dogs.

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Think about… Is the question about the data collected or is the purpose of the question to make a decision about some wider universe?

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If you posed a question such as “Do poultry hot dogs tend to have a higher sodium content level than beef hot dogs?”, on what basis would you make a decision?

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Are you aware of concepts such as sample, population, sample distribution, population distribution, sampling variability?

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