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Setting expectations in data science projects

How is it even possible to set expectations and launch data science projects?

Data science projects vary from “executive dashboards” through “automate what my analysts are already doing well” to “here is some data, we would like some magic.” That is you may be called to produce visualizations, analytics, data mining, statistics, machine learning, method research or method invention. Given the wide range of wants, diverse data sources, required levels of innovation and methods it often feels like you can not even set goals for data science projects.

Many of these projects either fail or become open ended (become unmanageable).

As an alternative we describe some of our methods for setting quantifiable goals and front-loading risk in data science projects. Continue reading Setting expectations in data science projects

Posted on Categories Opinion, Pragmatic Data Science, Pragmatic Machine Learning, Statistics, TutorialsTags , , , , ,

The cranky guide to trying R packages

This is a tutorial on how to try out a new package in R. The summary is: expect errors, search out errors and don’t start with the built in examples or real data.

Suppose you want to try out a novel statistical technique? A good fraction of the time R is your best bet for a first trial. Take as an example general additive models (“Generalized Additive Models,” Trevor J Hastie, Robert Tibshirani, Statistical Science (1986) vol. 1 (3) pp. 297-318); R has a package named “gam” written by Trevor Hastie himself. But, like most R packages, trying the package from the supplied documentation brings in unfamiliar data and concerns. It is best to start small and quickly test if the package itself is suitable to your needs. We give a quick outline of how to learn such a package and quickly find out if the package is for you.

Continue reading The cranky guide to trying R packages

Posted on Categories Applications, Pragmatic Data Science, Pragmatic Machine Learning, Statistics, TutorialsTags , , , , , ,

Learn Logistic Regression (and beyond)

One of the current best tools in the machine learning toolbox is the 1930s statistical technique called logistic regression. We explain how to add professional quality logistic regression to your analytic repertoire and describe a bit beyond that. Continue reading Learn Logistic Regression (and beyond)

Posted on Categories Applications, Expository Writing, Pragmatic Data Science, Pragmatic Machine Learning, Statistics, Statistics To English TranslationTags , , , , , ,

Living in A Lognormal World

Recently, we had a client come to us with (among other things) the following question:
Who is more valuable, Customer Type A, or Customer Type B?

This client already tracked the net profit and loss generated by every customer who used his services, and had begun to analyze his customers by group. He was especially interested in Customer Type A; his gut instinct told him that Type A customers were quite profitable compared to the others (Type B) and he wanted to back up this feeling with numbers.

He found that, on average, Type A customers generate about $92 profit per month, and Type B customers average about $115 per month (The data and figures that we are using in this discussion aren’t actual client data, of course, but a notional example). He also found that while Type A customers make up about 4% of the customer base, they generate less than 4% of the net profit per month. So Type A customers actually seem to be less profitable than Type B customers. Apparently, our client was mistaken.

Or was he? Continue reading Living in A Lognormal World

Posted on Categories Applications, Expository Writing, Pragmatic Data Science, Pragmatic Machine Learning, Statistics, Statistics To English TranslationTags , , , ,

Statistics to English Translation, Part 2b: Calculating Significance

In the previous installment of the Statistics to English Translation, we discussed the technical meaning of the term ”significant”. In this installment, we look at how significance is calculated. This article will be a little more technically detailed than the last one, but our primary goal is still to help you decipher statements about significance in research papers: statements like “
$ (F(2, 864) = 6.6, p = 0.0014)$ ”.

As in the last article, we will concentrate on situations where we want to test the difference of means. You should read that previous article first, so you are familiar with the terminology that we use in this one.

A pdf version of this current article can be found here.
Continue reading Statistics to English Translation, Part 2b: Calculating Significance

Posted on Categories Applications, Expository Writing, Pragmatic Data Science, Pragmatic Machine Learning, Statistics, Statistics To English TranslationTags , , , 4 Comments on Statistics to English Translation, Part 2a: ’Significant’ Doesn’t Always Mean ’Important’

Statistics to English Translation, Part 2a: ’Significant’ Doesn’t Always Mean ’Important’

In this installment of our ongoing Statistics to English Translation series1, we will look at the technical meaning of the term ”significant”. As you might expect, what it means in statistics is not exactly what it means in everyday language.

As always, a pdf version of this article is available as well. Continue reading Statistics to English Translation, Part 2a: ’Significant’ Doesn’t Always Mean ’Important’

Posted on Categories Applications, Expository Writing, Pragmatic Data Science, Pragmatic Machine Learning, Statistics, Statistics To English TranslationTags , , , , , , 4 Comments on “I don’t think that means what you think it means;” Statistics to English Translation, Part 1: Accuracy Measures

“I don’t think that means what you think it means;” Statistics to English Translation, Part 1: Accuracy Measures

Scientists, engineers, and statisticians share similar concerns about evaluating the accuracy of their results, but they don’t always talk about it in the same language. This can lead to misunderstandings when reading across disciplines, and the problem is exacerbated when technical work is communicated to and by the popular media.

The “Statistics to English Translation” series is a new set of articles that we will be posting from time to time, as an attempt to bridge the language gaps. Our goal is to increase statistical literacy: we hope that you will find it easier to read and understand the statistical results in research papers, even if you can’t replicate the analyses. We also hope that you will be able to read popular media accounts of statistical and scientific results more critically, and to recognize common misunderstandings when they occur.

The first installment discusses some different accuracy measures that are commonly used in various research communities, and how they are related to each other. There is also a more legible PDF version of the article here.

Continue reading “I don’t think that means what you think it means;” Statistics to English Translation, Part 1: Accuracy Measures

Posted on Categories Exciting Techniques, Expository Writing, Mathematics, Pragmatic Data Science, Pragmatic Machine Learning, StatisticsTags , , , , , , 7 Comments on Good Graphs: Graphical Perception and Data Visualization

Good Graphs: Graphical Perception and Data Visualization

What makes a good graph? When faced with a slew of numeric data, graphical visualization can be a more efficient way of getting a feel for the data than going through the rows of a spreadsheet. But do we know if we are getting an accurate or useful picture? How do we pick an effective visualization that neither obscures important details, or drowns us in confusing clutter? In 1968, William Cleveland published a text called The Elements of Graphing Data, inspired by Strunk and White’s classic writing handbook The Elements of Style . The Elements of Graphing Data puts forward Cleveland’s philosophy about how to produce good, clear graphs — not only for presenting one’s experimental results to peers, but also for the purposes of data analysis and exploration. Cleveland’s approach is based on a theory of graphical perception: how well the human perceptual system accomplishes certain tasks involved in reading a graph. For a given data analysis task, the goal is to align the information being presented with the perceptual tasks the viewer accomplishes the best. Continue reading Good Graphs: Graphical Perception and Data Visualization

Posted on Categories Applications, Expository Writing, Mathematics, Pragmatic Data Science, Pragmatic Machine Learning, StatisticsTags , , , , 2 Comments on A Demonstration of Data Mining

A Demonstration of Data Mining

REPOST (now in HTML in addition to the original PDF).

This paper demonstrates and explains some of the basic techniques used in data mining. It also serves as an example of some of the kinds of analyses and projects Win Vector LLC engages in. Continue reading A Demonstration of Data Mining