In Why is Statistics So Scary?, the Sep-26-2007 posting to the Math Stats And Data Mining Web log, the author wonders why so many people exhibit negative reactions to statistics.
I've had occasion to wondered about the same thing. I make my living largely from statistics, and have frequently received unfavorable reactions when I explain my work to others. Invariably, such respondents admit the great usefulness of statistics, so that is not the source of this negativity. I am certain that individual natural aptitude for this sort of work varies, but I do not believe that this accounts for the majority of negative feelings towards statistics.
Having received formal education in what I call "traditional" or "classical" statistics, and having since assisted others studying statistics in the same context, I suggest that one major impediment for many people is the total reliance by classical statisticians on a large set of very narrowly focused techniques. While they serve admirably in many situations, it is worth noting the disadvantages of classical statistical techniques:
1. Being so highly specialized, there are many of these techniques to remember.
2. It is also necessary to remember the appropriate applications of these techniques.
3. Broadly, classical statistics involves many assumptions. Violation of said assumptions may invalidate the results of these techniques.
Classical techniques were developed largely during a time without the benefit of rapid, inexpensive computation, which is very different from the environment we enjoy today.
The above were major motivations for me to embrace newer analytical methods (data mining, bootstrapping, etc.) in my professional life. Admittedly, newer methods have disadvantages of their own (not the least of which is their hunger for data), but it's been my experience that newer methods tend to be easier to understand, more broadly applicable and, consequently, simpler to apply.
I think the broader educational question is: Would students be better served by one or more years of torture, imperfectly or incorrectly learning myriad methods which will soon be forgotten, or the provision of a few widely useful tools and an elemental-level of understanding?