Lieutenant Commander Data Analysis

The word “data” is pretty meaningless to me right now. I’m in the data analysis phase of my dissertation, plus Alex and I are re-watching Star Trek: TNG Season 5 (Worf’s family name has honor again! Tasha Yar’s half-Romulan daughter is nefarious! Huzzah!), so I hear/say/breathe “data” a lot. Data-data-data. Was it ever a real word?

Would you say we have a plethora of Datas?

Among the many, many “Things I’ve Learned That It Would Have Been Useful To Know Before Starting My Dissertation” is that Likert-scaled data (questions coded with ranged response options, for instance: very unsatisfied, unsatisfied, satisfied, very satisfied) can/should be analyzed by nonparametric methods. Erm. So let me just say that the basic statistical analyses the courses I took tended to focus on (particularly t-tests, ANOVAs, and ANCOVAs) are parametric. Nonparametric stats were mentioned, most particularly Chi-square, but not in nearly as much detail. It was usually a long step-by-step analysis of how to perform an ANOVA, then, “you can also do this by nonparametric stats, but most of the time you won’t need to, so moving along to Chapter 13…” Egads. So I’m flipping through books, skimming articles, haunting “step-by-step statistical nonparametric SPSS analysis” web search results, and I’ve made an appointment with the UNT Stats help department to see if they can help walk me through this Land of Nonparametric Crazy. (PhD Comics doesn’t give the real explanation for an ANOVA, but it’s pretty revealing nonetheless…)

When it comes to statistical analyses, I think Data laughs at *all* of us.

So whyfore this Land of Nonparametric Crazy? Let me explain. Basically, Likert-scaled data is coded into sequential numbers (in the example above, very unsatisfied = 1, unsatisfied = 2, satisfied = 3, very satisfied = 4). Since the responses are recorded numerically, you can do all sorts of statistical numeric math-y mumbo-jumbo on them. BUT: essentially the numbers are just CODES for certain attitudes/feelings/etc. Sure, they look sequential (or “continuous” if you want to be all math-y about it), and in most cases they are ranked. For instance, the example above has a ranked order from negative attitude to positive attitude, that corresponds to the numbers. But it isn’t a scale with an absolute equal distance between the intervals (between each response). Now, if you’re recording temperatures, or people’s heights in inches, that’s truly continuous interval data. Those are scales with defined, unchanging points. But who can say where the cutoff is between “satisfied” and “very satisfied?”

Because of that strange property of Likert-scaled data, we refer to it as either “ordinal” (meaning it’s ranked, but there aren’t equal measurable distances between the response options) or as “nominal” (meaning that the number is really just a code, indicating a category of response rather than a numeric value). That’s a super-non-technical explanation, but I’m trying to make this as non-jargon-y as possible.

Aaaand voila, you can’t (well, you theoretically shouldn’t) analyze ordinal/nominal data by parametric methods. Parametric stats are really powerful, but the catch is that they rely on a bunch of assumptions, things like your data being regularly distributed (a whole other ball of wax), and that your data is interval/continuous. When you violate those assumptions, you turn to nonparametric statistical methods.

Data, Geordi, and Riker read my Chapter 4: Results with great dubiousness.

Lt. Cmdr. Data himself would be able to explain this much more quickly and correctly, but it would go waaay over my head. Then again, if he was sitting in my living room, I’d just plug my USB drive of data into his ear and ask him to crunch all the numbers for me. He’d ask me why I persist in using odd English slang like “dude” and “y’all” and I’d explain it’s a social convention that connotes my playful, laid-back demeanor. He’d nod knowingly and try to incorporate “dude” into his speech during the next meeting of the senior staff, Picard would get huffy, and by the end of the episode we’d all have a good laugh at poor Data’s expense.

Poor Spot.

Wait… wasn’t I talking about statistics? 


67 thoughts on “Lieutenant Commander Data Analysis

  1. dawn1952 says:

    Throw in the absolute ridiculousness of all these pass codes for Internet life and you will have the rest of us rolling on the floor!!!!!! I feel yer pain… Momo

    • Starr Hoffman says:

      ha! tell me about it… i had to recently change my password for UNT, and considering i’ve studied there (and had passwords to change very 90 days) since 1999… that’s 13 YEARS of passwords i can’t re-use.

      it took me about 15 minutes to come up with a password i haven’t used before, and that i could remember… i had to change it two days later, because i FORGOT IT ALREADY. *facepalm*

    • Starr Hoffman says:

      thanks! OH I KNOW, Memory Alpha is so great–allowing us to skip over the painful episodes (aka, “hey is this the one where Troi gets preggers with the Space Baby of Angst? *Memory Alpha consulted* it IS, okay SKIPPING THAT ONE”). 😉

  2. pezcita says:

    Great post! I didn’t understand all of it, having only a 1-semester crash course in statistics, but the Star Trek kept my attention. Data and Geordi were always my two favorite characters from the series. Can’t have one without the other!

  3. scyn7 says:

    hahahah! Thank you so much for breaking that down for me and making it “non-jargon-y”. I tend to love geekery, but it ABSOLUTELY must be broken down for me. Since you were so kind, I enjoyed many LOLs!

    • Starr Hoffman says:

      and wait a minute… you work with data, or you work with *Data*? because, DUDE, if it’s the latter, please hook me up. i promise not to squee with too much fangirl delight… wait, i can’t promise that. 😉

  4. Matthew Wright says:

    Or maybe Data could perform a Bayesian regression on the incomplete data entering Data, as it were 🙂 Unless there was only one point in which case it would be a datum…

    • Starr Hoffman says:

      bahahahaha. and that makes me think… is Data called “data” instead of “datum” because he contains so much data, or because there are so many of him (supposedly unique though he is): Lore, B4…?

      • My Camera, My Friend says:

        Well, for several seasons, Data thinks he is the only one of his kind. He only knows about Lore, who they beamed out into space in the first season. Lore and Data may look alike, but their personalities are very different. I love how they’re like annoying good kid and bad little boy in “Brothers”. Soong has his hands full.

  5. cyrusofsol says:

    …you can do all sorts of statistical numeric math-y mumbo-jumbo on them…

    Oh yes, that is what green-fascist fake scientists do when they contrive computer models to “prove” that natural climate variation is human-caused…

    • Starr Hoffman says:

      numeric math-y mumbo jumbo, oh man… especially considering that it looks like it’s still okay for me to use parametric analyses, according to my advisor, because in the end there’s not much difference in the reliability of results.

      …my brain hurts. 😉

  6. yourothermotherhere says:

    Was it Data or Mark Twain that said, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.”
    I guess it doesn’t matter. They were both on ST:TNG!

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    • Starr Hoffman says:

      best of luck to you!! my Educational Psych courses taught me more about research than i ever dreamed… if i was looking for another way to spend 4 years and too much money, i’d get a degree in it… BUT NO! as Picard said, “The line must be drawn HERE. This far, no further!” (He was speaking about the 17 years I’ve spent getting 4 degrees. I’m convinced.”

      SPSS + R + Excel = happy data nerdtimes. 🙂

  8. Meghan Johnson says:

    Haha this is great stuff. Brought back a lot of memories of my econometrics courses, but good lord I wish I’d thought about Data back then to help me get through them with some humor! Love the images. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed and good luck with your dissertation!

    • Starr Hoffman says:

      thanks! yeah, ST: TNG is definitely helping as an evening breather away from this data.
      i’m so happy to discover your blog and look forward to reading all your travel adventures! huzzah, a fellow world citizen! 🙂

  9. europebynumbers says:

    Nice you pasted a pic from ST7 (“generations”), it’s full of special data & geordi moments…
    I was a big trek fan back in the days and I always wanted to be like data. That sounds weird…

    • Starr Hoffman says:

      oh, i understand. i wanted to be like Geordi… just imagine a dorky 12-year old white girl walking around with a headband around her eyes. yep. that was me…

  10. chaotican says:

    Thank you. This solidified ideas in my own mind. Kind of like that episode where Crusher fell in love with the symbiant life form. It enriched me.

    • Starr Hoffman says:

      thanks! i credit the Amazing Interwebz with providing many awesome and LOL-tastic Data images from which to choose. and yes, yes he is the most awesome android ever–all apologies to Marvin the Paranoid Android and C3P0 aside. 😉

  11. Allie says:

    GREAT post! Brought me right back to a few years ago when I was up to my necks with all the data and my own dissertation… What a ride! And I’m a Star Trek fan, too, LOL… Back then I was watching TNG and complaining about Data being much lovable than my data, even though Prof. said we should love our data, LOL. Best of luck with your dissertation! ^__^~

    • Starr Hoffman says:

      hurray, a kindred spirit! hearing from fellow academic geeks makes me feel less alone… and crazy. 😉 ah, the fellowship of the internet that brings us all together.

  12. williamw60640 says:

    Great post. You took me back to the time I was writing and defending, successful on the second attempt, my Masters’ thesis. If you asked me to tell you today what it was about, well, don’t ask. Alright, briefly, we counted pellets of rat feces as part of an investigation of reinforcement schedules. Sorry, I felt compelled to determine whether I could still say/write something intelligible about the topic. Anyway, your post made me laugh. Good luck with the stats-you sound like you’ve figured it out.
    Cheers, and congrats on being FP!

    • Starr Hoffman says:

      glad my post made you laugh! wow, rat-feces-counting… now that sounds like an interesting topic to describe to new colleagues. i’d have had a tough time keeping a straight face–but then, despite my years of advanced education, i’ve got a pretty juvenile sense of humor, sigh… 🙂

  13. andy1076 says:

    LOL! You KNOW there was cheezeburgers on the enterprise! I always loved how Brent Spiner was able to play so many different roles wearing the same uniform and make up. 😀

  14. artexpectations says:

    Hey, I am a geeky artist librarian too! Apparently there are several of us around. I work at the Richardson Public Library north of Dallas TX, the Big D. I am a Librarian there, but mostly I use my graphic design skills for marketing the library and programs we have. (I studied art in college.) I love working there! Only part-time and do freelance and raising my kids the rest of the time. Do you currently work at a library? Check out my blog too. (Big Star Trek fan!)

  15. nzumel says:

    That PhD Comic was hilarious!

    BTW: I can give you an english explanation of 1-Way chi-squared (or 2-way) if you think it will help you. (That’s not the same as how to run it in SPSS, just what the heck it’s supposed to be doing). Don’t want to put it in the comments here unsolicited, lest your blog explode in a cloud of noxious statistics fumes … 🙂

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