Example 1

The essay topic I have selected is Statistics and Football. I would like to investigate how statistical methods are used in analysis of teams' performance.

The two articles I will start with are Chance articles:

These two articles both discuss statistical methods for rating football teams, but from different points of view. The first article proposes an analysis method called least squares for using available data on college football teams to select the overall best college football team in a given year. The second article concentrates on high school football, and defines a numerical measure of consistency and predictability called C-P, which I think is the extent to which the better team tends to win.

My focus in the essay will be on the particular techniques used. My goal is to understand as well as I can the use of least squares methods (with reference to the first article) and the C-P measure (with reference to the second article). I will refer to a couple of elementary statistics texts to help me with this, most likely

I will also refer to the book Management Science in Sports, eds. Machol, Ladany and Morrison (1976), as it has at least one article related to college football, and may have others.

A possible outline for my essay is the following (sections and section headings subject to change):

  1. Introduction
  2. Summary of Stern's article
    1. Technical note on least squares
  3. Summary of Phllips and Wilburn's article \begin{enumerate}
  4. Technical note on the C-P measure \end{enumerate}
  5. Related uses of statistics in football: (For this I plan to refer to the article
  6. Critique: In this section I will consider whether I think statistical analyses are helpful to understanding the sport of football. I will also critique the relevant articles on the basis of their clarity, general interest, and persuasiveness. I will particularly comment on whether or not the articles sparked my interest in exploring the subject further.
  7. Data (tentative) Stern's article has a large table of data, and one or two graphical displays might have been very helpful. If I can, I will try to plot some of this data so that the arguments being made stand out visually.
  8. Conclusion

Example 2

The essay topic I have selected is Genes and Intelligence. I would like to find out how statistical arguments have been used in the debate on genetic determinations of intelligence.

I will use as my references two recent books, and a Chance article:

The first article concentrates on criticizing the statistical techniques used in The Bell Curve. This article doesn't appear to be too technical, so I will try to summarize the main points made in the article.

I am not sure it will be feasible to read all of The Bell Curve, especially the technical parts, so I will plan to concentrate on chapters that discuss actual data sources, and spend little or no time on the chapters on social policy implications.

The articles in The Bell Curve Debate that I will consider are those that particularly address the statistical arguments that the authors of The Bell Curve use. I would particularly like to see if The Bell Curve is criticized for flaws in its scientific approach, or instead is criticized because the point of view it presents is `politically incorrect'.

I also plan to consider at least briefly the history of the debate about genes and intelligence, with reference to the eugenics movement in the twenties, views of Arthur Jensen and his collaborators in the sixties, and the current debate generated by Herrnstein and Murray.

A tentative outline is:

  1. Introduction
  2. The Bell Curve's thesis that intelligence is hereditable: a summary.
  3. The data sources and statistical arguments used in The Bell Curve.
  4. Critiquing the statistics: discussion of Chance article and relevant articles in The Bell Curve Debate.
  5. The historical context for The Bell Curve.
  6. What have I learned from all this?
  7. Conclusions

Example 3

The essay topic I have selected is the link between childhood leukemia and alcohol consumption of the mother during pregnancy that was reported in the Minnesota Star Tribune on Jan.3, 1996, and included in Chance News 5.01 on the World Wide Web.

The full text of the article is available online, and reports that researchers found that drinking is associated with a 10-fold increase in the risk of developing acute myeloid leukemia and a 2.3-fold increase in the risk of developing acute lymphoid leukemia.

The study was published in the January 2nd issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, and I plan to base my essay on that article. Since I don't know what relative risk is, or how the analysis was carried out, I will need to refer to some articles or textbooks on statistical methods in medicine, which I can hopefully find in the references to the JNCI article. I will also need to find some basic medical information on what acute myeloid leukemia and acute lymphoid leukemia are, and whether there are any other known risk factors for these diseases. I will look for most of the information on the world wide web. I will use http://www.yahoo.com/Health/index.html as a starting point for finding health-related articles, and http://www.enews.com/health.html which lists several electronic journals on health, including one called ``Cancer causes and control".

A tentative outline is the following:

  1. Introduction: summary of the newspaper article
  2. Summary of the article in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute: methods, data collection and conclusions.
  3. Technical notes on childhood leukemia and its causes.
  4. Technical notes on observational studies, relative risk, etc.
  5. Potential difficulties/biases in the JNCI study.
  6. (tentative): Other effects of pre-natal consumption of alcohol
  7. Conclusions