BASEBALL, WHALES, & STATISTICS
During a lecture from a statistics professor, BYU honors students learned how statistics can be used to travel through time, and even save the whales.
As a guest in the BYU Honors Program weekly seminar series, Dr. Shane Reese spoke about how he has used statistics to create a better world and to enjoy his hobbies. Reese specializes in Bayesian statistics, a type of statistics that takes a much broader view than classical statistics.
"The point of Bayesian calculations is to use all the data you can use in the most efficient way possible," Reese said. "Bayesian methods turn out to be particularly adept at building bridges; it is the grout of science."
Reese explained an example of Bayesian statistics that has recently received significant attention in the sports world — a statistical time machine. A classic argument among sports enthusiasts is over which athlete in history was the best. Reese wanted to know who was the best home run hitter of all time. Was it Babe Ruth, Mark McGwire, or Barry Bonds? Because baseball players throughout history have played for different reasons, with different equipment, and with different teams, it is a difficult question to answer.
"We have 16,000 players worth of at-bats and data," Reese said. "We can create a set of statistical bridges that will tie Babe Ruth to Barry Bonds, and those ties can help us to bring them to the same point in time."
So who was the best home run hitter? Alex Rodriguez, according to Reese's data. But Babe Ruth was still third best, just behind second-best Mark McGwire.
Another example Reese shared showed how statistics can be used to truly make the world a better place — by helping save the whales. Reese explained that oil drilling results in many whale deaths, especially among baby (or neonate) bowhead whales along the northern coast of Alaska. The most difficult part of helping save these whales is that scientists have very little information on the migration patterns of bowhead whales, and at what point during migration, they are born.