Biostatistics By Hand? Yes, Please!

When I was studying medical technology, my professors and mentors emphasized the need to learn to do by hand all of the procedures that automated instruments did. Those instruments, which are veritable robots, can do a complete cell count in a few minutes. Doing a complete cell count by hand takes at least an hour if you’re good and organized… It can take three or more if you’re just learning.

It’s very much the same with biostatistics. There are plenty of computer software packages that can do the calculations for you in an instant, but it is fundamental to your understanding of how statistical calculations work — and how you apply them to biology, thus biostats — to learn to do them by hand. Yes, it’s tedious. Yes, it takes a lot of work and mental capacity. But it is worth it in the end because you learn to understand what the statistics are telling you and how you will communicate that to others.

I’ve been coming up with ideas on how to teach the students that I tutor the finer points of biostatistics. A lot of them are very confused about things like the null hypothesis and the alternative, and when to reject one or the other, or when to “fail to reject” the null. So I’ve stumbled across some good videos on how to do these calculations by hand and how to interpret the results.

I wish there were more like these videos when I was learning biostats for my MPH and when I had to re-learn them for my DrPH.

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