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John Cook is an applied mathematician working in Houston, Texas. His career has been a blend of research, software development, consulting, and management. John is a DZone MVB and is not an employee of DZone and has posted 169 posts at DZone. You can read more from them at their website. View Full User Profile

What Should You Read to Learn Elementary Statistics?

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I’ve thought about making a personal FAQ page. If I do, one of the questions would be what elementary statistics book I recommend. Unfortunately, I don’t have an answer for that one. I haven’t seen such a book I’d recommend enthusiastically.

When asked for book recommendations, people will often recommend the textbook used in a course they had. But I never had an elementary statistics course. I had a PhD in math before I became interested in statistics, so I learned statistics from more advanced books. I’ve looked at a number of elementary books, but I haven’t found one I’m excited about.

Elementary statistics books may do more harm than good. They often brush difficulties under the rug. They avoid mathematical and philosophical details. They don’t define terms carefully, and even say things that are false. And they imply that statistical analysis is a matter of applying a set of rules by rote. (And it is, for many statisticians. But that’s a topic for another time.) If a statistics book doesn’t have fairly steep prerequisites, it will be hard for it not to be misleading.

This leads to another frequently asked question: Do I intend to write my own elementary statistics book? No. I don’t know whether I could write such a book that I’d be proud of. And if I could, it would take more time than I could afford to devote to it at this point in my life.

(I’ll write soon about what “this point in my life” is. If you don’t want to wait, here’s the news in a nutshell.)

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