Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Beer : Statistics :: Peas : Carrots

I once got drunk while "studying" the night before a major exam in statistics. Normally this would not be something to be proud of, but the fact is, despite the morning headache, my mind was clear of distractions and all that wonderful statistical knowledge flowed onto the paper just as smoothly as the beer flowed into my belly the night before. I aced the exam and secured my future in psychology. (This is a story that my friend Nick likes to tell whenever someone mentions exams and drinking in the same sentence).

It turns out there is a very good reason that beer and statistics go together like birds of a feather. The study of statistics has been linked with beer since its early history. Anyone with basic stats knowledge has heard of Student's t-distribution, often used to tell if two groups are different from each other on some measure. Student was the pen name of William Sealy Gosset, a statistician working in Dublin. The dude chummed with some of the more familiar names in stats, like Pearson and Fisher.

The thing is, Gosset didn't give a shit about discovering the inner workings of the mind by poking and prodding samples of unsuspecting humans. No, Gosset just wanted to use mathematics to brew tasty beer. He worked for the Guinness brewery, applying statistical knowledge to growing and brewing barley. Guinness wanted to protect this powerful secret knowledge from competitors, so Gosset was forced to publish under a fake name, and apparently more math-creative than naming-creative, chose the name "Student."

So that's how Student's t-distribution was born. And that's why having a few pints of Guinness before a major stats exam should be encouraged. Even if it results in failure - and it probably will - mention to the prof that it was a tribute to the long and fascinating history of beer and statistics. That's gotta be worth a few bonus marks.


P. S. I hope you noticed the subtle normal curve in the picture of the Guinness up there. That took some serious Photoshop skills you know.


sarah said...

I wouldn't have noticed had you not mentioned to be honest. But then you did and I was slightly impressed!

Phronk said...

Only slightly? That hurts. It hurts bad.

Tai said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tai said...

mmmmm, Guinness.

True story.
First time I ever drank Guinness was in Ireland. It was sublime and I highly recommend it. It was quickly followed by 3 more and then a sing-a-long. Also recommended.

Adorable Girlfriend said...

Math is hard.

Jen said...

Are you talking about 281? I wrote that one drunk - I was walking to the exam a few hours early and ran into my friend on her porch, with sangria on one of the first nice days of that year... and showed up to the exam 2 hours later (on time) but very not sober. Best mark of my life - I don't know why I didn't do it more often ;)

And Nick = NC? Yes to the Baio resemblance :)

Jen said...

Also, I noticed the curve and was impressed and did not even know that it'd been photoshopped.

Jennifer said...

I thought your beer was frowning sternly at you.

Phronk said...

Tai: I'm glad to hear that Guinness in Ireland is actually good...I always worry that the whole Irishness of it is just a marketing lie. It keeps me up at night.

AG: Apparently it's less hard when drunk or hung over.

Jen: Yep, 281! Haha and thanks for confirming my theory and being impressed with my curve.

Wait you know Nick? What??

He loves the Baio comparison and it should be pointed out to him frequently.

Jen 2: Haha it does look like that. Don't judge me, beer!

Jennifer said...

I was about to be offended at being called Jen2, but I suppose you're at the very least, Mike2, and that's if I rank you over my brother.