Morphing gamblers

A piece of cake statistics isn’t.

Not for me. My first class was hard enough. I persevered and did well with it, but I really broke a sweat. Then there was my second class, and the textbook, Grinstead and Snell’s Introduction to Probability, really took the starch out of me. This dense, proof-heavy text, barren of concrete examples (or so it seemed to me) gave me the glicks.


The history of statistics is bound closely to the world of gambling. This has been one of my big mental blocks about studying statistics. I couldn’t care less about gambling. Flipping coins, drawing cards, spinning roulette wheels. Don’t care, don’t care, don’t care. I don’t connect with those uninspiring, frivolous games. Once in a while I buy a lottery ticket. Otherwise, games of chance hold no fascination for me.


Enter Joe Blitzstein, Statistics Professor at Harvard. His Introduction to Statistics, co-authored with Jessica Hwang is a Rosetta Stone for this baffling subject. You can follow that link to his course on EdX and videos on YouTube, too.


One of the most important skills to develop when studying probability and statistics is the ability to go back and forth between abstract ideas and concrete examples.

This is exactly what challenges me.

Relatedly, it is important to work on recognizing the essential pattern or structure of a problem and how it connects to problems you have studied previously.

Joe is pursuasive.

We will often discuss stories that involve tossing coins or drawing balls from urns because they are simple, convenient scenarios to work with, but many other problems are isomorphic: they have the same essential structure, but in a different guise.

Okay, maybe I already untuited that but I’m sure I didn’t pay attention to it because gambling isn’t fun for me. But now I have a fancy term, isomorphic, for why I should care. I can sound all academic with that.

So while gambling doesn’t inspire me, if I can sound studied and act arrogant about it, that ought to appeal.

Thanks, Joe!