Tortured Numbers: Basic Statistics for Growers

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In North America, winter is agriculture conference and lecture season. Growers are inundated with graphs and charts and left to make sense of what they’re seeing. It might be an agrichemical rep promoting a new pesticide or a seed dealer comparing yields. Maybe an equipment dealer is illustrating return on investment. Even university researchers and government extension specialists have been known to flash the occasional graph from time to time.

Without a basic understanding of how data can be abused, we are at the mercy of those presenting the data. So, in 2012, I was asked to develop a talk that would give growers a basic grounding in descriptive statistics. More to the point, it would empower a grower to raise their hand and ask questions if they felt a presenter was talking out of their… *ahem*.

  • Did the researcher do their stats correctly?
  • Is the data clear and easy to understand?
  • Is the presenter skewing something to make us see what they want?

Since writing it, I’ve been asked to deliver this talk to several grower groups, which is surprising because very few people love statistics. Now that we’re all webinar-savvy, I took the opportunity to update the presentation and record it.

The video is only 15 minutes. When you’re done I hope you’ll appreciate that it’s OK to be skeptical of data. Ask questions and dig deeper.