For more information contact Resampling Stats, 612 N. Jackson St., Arlington, VA, 22201 PROBABILITY AND STATISTICS THE RESAMPLING WAY Stats for Poets, Politicians - and Statisticians Julian L. Simon and Peter Bruce
Probability theory and its offspring, inferential
statistics, constitute perhaps the most frustrating branch of
Right from its beginnings in the seventeenth century, the
great mathematical discoverers knew that the probabilistic way of
thinking -- which we'll call "prob-stats" for short -- offers
enormous power to improve our decisions and the quality of our
lives. Prob-stats can aid a jury's deliberation about whether to
find guilty a person charged with murder...reveal if a new drug
boosts survival from a cancer...help steer a spacecraft to
Saturn...inform the manager when to take a pitcher out of the
baseball game...aid a wildcatter to calculate how much to invest
in an oil well...and a zillion other good things, too.
Yet until very recently, when the resampling method came
along, scholars were unable to convert this powerful body of
theory into a tool that laypersons could and would use freely in
daily work and personal life. Instead, only professional
statisticians feel themselves in comfortable command of the prob-
stats way of thinking. And the most frequent application is by
social and medical scientists, who know that prob-stats is
indispensable to their work yet too often fear and misuse it.
Prob-stats continues to be the bane of students, most of
whom consider the statistics course a painful rite of passage --
like fraternity paddling -- on the way to an academic degree.
Even among those who study it, most close the book at the end of
the semester and happily put prob-stats out of their minds
The statistical community has made valiant attempts to
ameliorate this sad situation. Great statisticians have
struggled to find interesting and understandable ways to teach
prob-stats. Learned committees and professional associations
have wrung their hands in despair, and spent millions of dollars
to create television series and text books. Chance magazine
imaginatively demonstrates and explains the exciting uses and
benefits of prob-stats.
Despite successes, these campaigns to promote prob-stats
have largely failed. The enterprise smashes up against an
impenetrable wall - the body of complex algebra and tables that
only a rare expert understands right down to the foundations.
Almost no one can write the formula for the "Normal" distribution
that is at the heart of most statistical tests. Even fewer
understand its meaning; yet without such understanding, there can
be only rote learning.
Almost every student of probability and statistics simply
memorizes the rules. Most users of prob-stats select their
methods blindly, understanding little or nothing of the basis for
choosing one method rather than another. This often leads to
wildly inappropriate practices, and contributes to the damnation
of statistics. Indeed, in the last decade or so, the
discipline's graybeards have decided that prob-stats is just too
tough a nut to crack, and have concluded that students should be
taught mainly descriptive statistics - tables and graphs - rather
than how to draw inferences probabilistically, which is really
the heart of statistics.
The new resampling method, in combination with the personal
computer, promises to change all this. Resampling may finally
realize the great potential of statistics and probability.
Resampling estimates probabilities by numerical experiments
instead of with formulae - by flipping coins or picking numbers
from a hat, or with the same operations simulated on a computer.
And the computer language-program RESAMPLING STATS performs these
operations in a transparently clear and simple fashion.
The best mathematicians now accept resampling theoretically.
And controlled studies show that people ranging from engineers
and scientists down to seventh graders quickly handle more
problems correctly than with conventional methods. Furthermore,
in contrast to the older conventional statistics, which is a
painful and humiliating experience for most students at all
levels, the published studies show that students enjoy resampling
THE REAPPEARANCE OF RESAMPLING IN THE HISTORY OF STATISTICS
Resampling returns to a very old tradition. In ancient
times, mathematics in general, and statistics in particular,
developed from the needs of governments and rich men to count
their armies and flocks, and to enumerate the taxpayers and their
possessions. Up until the beginning of the twentieth century,
the term "statistic" meant "state-istics", the number of
something the "state" was interested in -- soldiers, births, or
what-have-you. Even today, the term "statistic" usually means
the quantity of something, such as the important statistics for
the United States in the Statistical Abstract of the United
States. These numbers are now known as "descriptive statistics,"
in contrast to "inferential statistics" which is the science that
tells us how reliable is a set of descriptive statistics.
Another stream of thought appeared by way of gambling in
France in the 17th century. Throughout history people had
learned about the odds in gambling games by experimental trial-
and-error experience. To find the chance of a given hand
occurring in a card game, a person would deal out a great many
hands and count the proportion of times that the hand in question
occurred. That was the resampling method, plain and simple.
Then in the year 1654, the French nobleman Chevalier de Mere
asked the great mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal to
help him deduce what the odds ought to be in some gambling games.
Pascal, the famous Pierre Fermat, and others went on from there
to develop analytic probability theory, and Jacob Bernouilli and
Abraham DeMoivre initiated the formal theory of statistics. The
experimental method disappeared into mathematical obscurity
except for its use when a problem was too difficult to be
answered theoretically, as happened from time to time in the
development of statistical tests -- for example, the development
of the famous t-test by "Student", the pen-name of William S.
Gossett -- and the World War II "Monte Carlo" simulations for
complex military "operations research" problems such as how best
to search for submarines with airplanes.
Later on, these two streams of thought -- descriptive
statistics and probability theory -- joined together. Users of
descriptive statistics wondered about the accuracy of the data
originating from both sample surveys and experiments. Therefore,
statisticians applied the theory of probability to assessing the
accuracy of data and created the theory of inferential
HOW RESAMPLING DEVELOPED
Too much book-learning, too little understanding. The
students had swallowed but not digested a bundle of statistical
ideas which now misled them, taught by professors who valued
fancy mathematics even if useless or wrong. It was the spring of
1967 at the University of Illinois, in my (Simon's) course in
research methods with four graduate students working toward the
PhD degree. I required each student to start and finish an
empirical research project as a class project. Now the students
were presenting their work in class. Each used wildly wrong
statistical tests to analyze their data.
"Why do you use the technique of cluster analysis?" I asked
Moe Taher (a pseudonym).
"I want to be up-to-date," said Taher.
"How much statistics have you studied?" I asked.
"Two undergraduate and three graduate courses," Taher
It was the usual statistical disaster. A simple count of
the positive and negative cases in Taher's sample was enough to
reveal a clear-cut conclusion. The fancy method Taher used was
window-dressing, and inappropriate to boot. It was the same sad
story with the other three students.
All had had several courses in statistics. But when the
time came to apply even the simplest statistical ideas and tests
in their research projects, they were lost. Their courses had
plainly failed to equip them with basic usable statistical tools.
So I wondered: How could we teach the students to distill
the meaning from their data? Simple statistical methods suffice
in most cases. But by chasing after the latest sophisticated
fashions the students overlook these simple methods, and instead
use unsound methods.
I remembered trying to teach a friend a concept in
elementary statistics by illustrating it with some coin flips.
Given that the students' data had a random element, could not the
data and the events that underlie the data be "modeled" with
coins or cards or random numbers, doing away with any need for
Next class I shelved the scheduled topics, and tried out
some problems using the resampling method (though that label had
not yet been invented). First the students estimated the chance
of getting two pairs in a poker hand by dealing out hands. Then
I asked them the likelihood of getting three girls in a four-
child family. After they recognized that they did not know the
correct formula, I demanded an answer anyway. After suggesting
some interesting other ideas -- we'll come to them later -- one
of the students eventually suggested flipping coins.
With that the class was off to the races. Soon the students
were inventing ingenious ways to get answers -- and sound answers
-- to even subtle questions in probability and statistics by
flipping coins and using random numbers. The very next two-hour
seminar the students re-discovered an advanced technique
originally invented by the great statistician Ronald A. Fisher.
The outcome of these experiments was resampling. Even
before this time, though I had not known of it, resampling had
been suggested for one particular case in inferential statistics
in technical articles in the Annals of Mathematical Statistics by
Meyer Dwass in 1957, and in the Journal of the American
Statistical Association by J. H. Chung and D. A. S. Fraser in 1958.
They preceded me in applying sampling methods to the problem of
deciding whether two sample means differ from each other, basing
the procedure on Fisher's famous "randomization" test. The new
idea I contributed was handling all (or at least most) problems
by resampling. And to that end, I taught a systematic procedure
for carrying out resampling procedures and illustrated it for a
variety of problems, while also teaching conventional methods in
Then it was natural to wonder: Could even children learn
this powerful way of dealing with the world's uncertainty? Max
Beberman, the guru of the "new math" who then headed the
mathematics department in the University of Illinois High School,
quickly agreed that the method had promise, and suggested
teaching the method to a class of volunteer juniors and seniors.
The kids had a ball. In six class hours they were able to
discover solutions and generate correct numerical answers for the
entire range of problems ordinarily found in a semester-long
university introductory statistics class. Furthermore, the
students loved the work.
A semester-long university class in statistics, with
resampling and the conventional method taught side by side, came
next. But students complained that dealing cards, flipping
coins, and consulting tables of random numbers gets tiresome. So
in 1973 I developed a computer language that would do with the
computer what one's hands do with cards or dice. The RESAMPLING
STATS program, which handles all problems in statistics and
probability with only about twenty commands that mimic operations
with cards, dice, or random numbers, is a simple language
requiring no computer experience. Even 7th graders quickly
understand and use it, though it is powerful enough for
scientific and industrial use. (It does, however, provide a
painless introduction to computers, which is a valuable
A major sub-part of the general resampling method - the
"bootstrap", which was independently developed by Bradley Efron
in the 1970s - has now swept the field of statistics to an
extraordinary extent. The New York Times had this to say:
"A new technique that involves powerful computer
calculations is greatly enhancing the statistical analysis
of problems in virtually all fields of science. The method,
which is now surging into practical use after a decade of
refinement, allows statisticians to determine more
accurately the reliability of data analysis in subjects
ranging from politics to medicine to particle physics...
"`There's no question but that it's very, very important'
said Frederick Mosteller, a statistician at Harvard
University...Jerome H. Friedman, a Stanford statistician who
has used the new method, called it `the most important new
idea in statistics in the last 20 years, and probably the
last 50'. He added, `Eventually, it will take over the
field, I think.'" (Nov. 8, 1988, C1, C6)
Resampling is best understood by seeing it being learned.
The instructor walks into a new class and immediately asks, say,
"What are the chances if I have four children that three of those
children will be girls?" Someone says "Put a bunch of kids into a
hat and pick out four at a time". Teach says, "Sounds fine in
theory, but it might be a bit difficult to actually carry
out...How about some other suggestions?"
Someone else says, "Have four kids and see what you get."
Teach says, "Sounds good. But let's say you have four children
once. Is that going to be enough to give you a decent answer?"
So they discuss how big a sample is needed, which brings out the
important principle of variability in the samples you draw.
Teach then praises this idea because it focuses attention on
learning from experiment, one of the key methods of science. S/he
points out, however, that it could take a while to have a hundred
families, plus some energy and money, so it doesn't seem to be
practical at the moment. Teach asks for another suggestion.
Someone suggests taking a survey of families with four
children. Teach praises this idea, too, because it focuses on
getting an answer by going out and looking at the world. But
what if a faster answer is needed?
Someone else wonders if it is possible to "do something that
is like having kids. Put an equal number of red and black balls
in a pot, and pull four of them out. That would be like a
family." This kicks off discussion about how many balls are
needed, and how they should be drawn, which brings out some of
the main concepts in probability - sampling with or without
replacement, independence, and the like.
Then somebody wonders whether the chance of having a girl
the first time you have a child is the same as the chance of a
red ball from an urn with even numbers of red and black balls, an
important question indeed. This leads to discussion of whether
50-50 is a good approximation. This brings up the question of
the purpose of the estimate, and the instructor suggests that a
clothing manufacturer wants to know how many sets of matched
girls dresses to make.
Coins seem easier to use than balls, all agree. And Teach
commissions one student to orchestrate the rest of the class in a
coin-flipping exercise. Then the question arises: Is one sample
of (say) thirty coin-flip "families" enough? The exercise is
repeated several times, and the class is impressed with the
variability from one sample of thirty to the next. Once again
the focus is upon variability, perhaps the most important idea
inherent in prob-stats.
Or another example: The instructor asks, "What are the
chances that basketball player Magic Johnson, who averages 47
percent success in shooting, will miss 8 of his next 10 shots?"
The class shouts out joking suggestions such as "Go watch Magic,"
and "Try it yourself on the court." Teach responds, "Excellent
ideas, good scientific thinking, but not feasible now. What else
could we do?"
Soon someone - say, Adam - suggests flipping a coin. This
leads to instructive discussion about whether the 50-50 coin is a
good approximation, and whether ten coins flipped once give the
same answer as one coin flipped ten times. Eventually all agree
that trying it both ways is the best way to answer the question.
Teach then invites Adam up front to run the simulation. Adam
directs each of the 30 students to flip ten coins and count the
resulting heads. Teach writes the results on the board. The
proportion of the thirty trials in which there are 8 or more
misses is then counted. The students discuss this result in the
light of the variability from one sample of ten shots to another
- an important and now-obvious idea. And Teach points out how
the same procedure is at the heart of industrial quality control.
After a while someone complains that flipping coins and
dealing cards is wearisome. Aha! Now Teach breaks out the
computer and suggests doing the task faster, more accurately, and
more pleasurably with the following computer instructions:
REPEAT 100 obtain a hundred simulation trials
GENERATE 10 1,1OO A generate 10 numbers randomly between 1
COUNT A 1,53 B count the number of misses in the trial
(Magic's shooting average is 47% hits, 53% misses.)
SCORE B Z record the result of the trial
END end the repeat loop for a single trial
COUNT Z 8,10 K count the number of trials with 8 or more
The histogram (Figure 1) shows the results of 100 trials, and
Figure 2 shows the results of 1000 trials. The amount of
variability obviously diminishes as the as the number of trials
increases, an important lesson.
Figures 1 and 2
Then Teach asks: "If you see Magic Johnson miss 8 of 10
shots after he has returned from an injury, should you think that
he is in a shooting slump?" Now the probability problem has
become a problem in statistical inference -- testing the
hypothesis that Magic is in a slump. And with proper
interpretation the same computer program yields the appropriate
answer -- about 6.5 percent of the time Magic will miss 8 or more
shots out of 10, even if he is not in a slump. So don't take him
out or stop him from shooting. Understanding this sort of
variability over time is the key to Japanese quality control.
Now the instructor changes the question again and asks: "If
you observe a player - call him Houdini - succeed with 47 of 100
shots, how likely is it that if you were to observe the same
player take a great number of shots - a thousand or ten thousand
- his long-run average would turn out to be 53 per cent or
higher?" A sample of 47 baskets out of 100 shots could come from
players of quite different "true" shooting percentages.
Resampling can help us make transparent several different
approaches to this problem in "inverse probability".
Clearly, we need to have some idea of how much variation
there is in samples from shooters like Houdini. If we have no
other information, we might reasonably proceed as if the 47/100
sample is our best estimate of Houdini's "true" shooting
percentage. We could and take repeated samples from a 47%
shooting machine to estimate how great the variation is from
shooters with long-run averages in that vicinity, from which we
could estimate the likelihood that the "true" average is 53%.
(This is the well-known "confidence interval" approach. In
truth, the logic is a bit murky, but that is seldom a handicap in
daily practice. )
Alternatively, we might be interested in a particular
shooting percentage - say, Houdini's lifetime average before a
shoulder injury. In such a case, we might want to know whether
the 47 for 100 is just spell of below-average shooting, or an
indication that the injury has affected his play. In this
situation, we could repeatedly sample from a 53% shooting machine
to see how likely a 47/100 sample is. Using this "hypothesis-
testing" approach, if we find that the 47/100 is very
unusual, we concluded that the injury is hampering Houdini; if
Consider still another possibility: If Houdini is a rookie
with no history in the league, we might want to apply additional
knowledge about how often 53% shooters are encountered in the
league. Here we might bring in information about the "distribution"
of the averages of other players, or of other rookies, to see how
likely a 47/100 sample is in light of such a distribution - a
"Bayesian" approach to the matter.
The resampling approach to problems like this one helps
clarify the problem. Because there are no formulae to fall back
upon, you are forced to think hard about how best to proceed.
Foregoing these crutches may make the problem at hand seem
confusing and difficult, which is sometimes distressing. But in
the long run it is also the better way, because it forces you to
come to terms with the subtle nature of such problems rather than
sweeping these subtle difficulties under the carpet. You will
then be in a better position to choose a step-by-step logical
procedure which fits the circumstances.
To repeat, in the absence of black-box computer programs and
cryptic tables, the resampling approach forces you to directly
address the problem at hand. Then, instead of asking "Which
formula should I use?" students ask such questions as "Why is
something `significant' if it occurs 4% of the time by chance,
yet not `significant' if a random process produces it 8% of the
MAKING THE PROCEDURE MORE PRECISE
Let's get a bit more precise and systematic. Let us define
resampling to include problems in inferential statistics
as well as problems in probability, with this "operational
definition": With the entire set of data you have in hand, or
with the given data-generating mechanism (such as a die) that is
a model of the process you wish to understand, produce new
samples of simulated data, and examine the results of those
samples. That's it in a nutshell. In some cases, it may also be
appropriate to amplify this procedure with additional assumptions
that you deem appropriate.
Problems in pure probability may at first seem different in
nature than problems in statistical inference. But the same
logic as stated in the definition above applies to both varieties
of problems. The only difference is that in probability problems
the "model" is known in advance -- say, the model implicit in a
deck of cards plus a game's rules for dealing and counting the
results -- rather than the model being assumed to be best
estimated by the observed data, as in resampling statistics.
Many problems in probability -- all of them, we conjecture -
have a corresponding flip-side "shadow" or "dual" problem in
statistics, and vice versa; the basketball case above is an
THE GENERAL PROCEDURE
The steps in solving the particular problems above have been
chosen to fit the specific facts. We can also describe the steps
in a more general fashion. The generalized procedure simulates
what we are doing when we estimate a probability using resampling
Step A. Construct a simulated "universe" of random numbers
or cards or dice or another randomizing mechanism whose
composition is similar to the universe whose behavior we wish to
describe and investigate. The term "universe" refers to the
system that is relevant for a single simple event. For example:
a) A coin with two sides, or two sets of random numbers "1-
5" and "6-0", simulates the system that produces a single male or
female birth, when we are estimating the probability of three
girls in the first four children. Notice that in this universe
the probability of a girl remains the same from trial event to
trial event -- that is, the trials are independent --
demonstrating a universe from which we sample without
b) An urn containing a hundred balls, 47 red and 53 black,
simulates the system that produces 47 baskets out of 100 shots.
Hard thinking is required in order to determine the
appropriate "real" universe whose properties interest you.
Step(s) B. Specify the procedure that produces a pseudo-
sample which simulates the real-life sample in which we are
interested. That is, you must specify the procedural rules by
which the sample is drawn from the simulated universe. These
rules must correspond to the behavior of the real universe in
which you are interested. To put it another way, the simulation
procedure must produce simple experimental events with the same
probabilities that the simple events have in the real world. For
a) In the case of three daughters in four children, you can
draw a card and then replace it if you are using a deck of red
and black cards. Or if you are using a random-numbers table, the
random numbers automatically simulate replacement. Just as the
chances of having a boy or a girl do not change depending on the
sex of the preceding child, so we want to ensure through
replacement that the chances do not change each time we choose
from the deck of cards.
b) In the case of Magic Johnson's shooting, the procedure
is to consider the numbers 1-47 as "baskets", and 48-100 as
Recording the outcome of the sampling must be indicated as
part of this step, e.g. "record `yes' if girl or basket, `no' if
a boy or a miss.
Step(s) C. If several simple events must be combined into a
composite event, and if the composite event was not described in
the procedure in step B, describe it now. For example:
a) For the three girls in four children, the procedure for
each simple event of a single birth was described in step B. Now
we must specify repeating the simple event four times, and
determine whether the outcome is or is not three girls.
b) In the case of Magic Johnson's ten shots, we must draw
ten numbers to make up a sample of shots, and examine whether
there are 8 or more misses.
Recording of "three or more girls" or "two or less girls",
and "8 or more misses" or "7 or fewer", is part of this step.
This record indicates the results of all the trials and is the
basis for a tabulation of the final result.
Step(s) D. Calculate from the tabulation of outcomes of the
resampling trials. For example: the proportion of a) "yes" or
"no", or b) "8 or more" or "7 or fewer", estimates the likelihood
we wish to estimate in step C.
There is indeed more than one way to skin a cat (ugh!). And
there is always more than one way to correctly estimate a given
probability. Therefore, when reading through the list of steps
used to estimate a given probability, please keep in mind that a
particular list is not sacred or unique; other sets of steps will
also do the trick.
Let's consider an extended example, my study in the 1960s of
the price of liquor in the sixteen "monopoly" states (where the
state government owns the retail liquor stores) compared to the
twenty-six states in which retail liquor stores are privately
owned. (Some states were omitted for technical reasons.) This
problem in " statistical hypothesis testing" would conventionally
be handled with Student's t-test, but with much less theoretical
justification than the resampling method possesses here.
These are the representative 1961 prices of a fifth of
Seagram 7 Crown whiskey in the two sets of states:
16 monopoly states: $4.65, $4.55, $4.11, $4.15, $4.20,
$4.55, $3.80, $4.00, $4.19, $4.75, $4.74, $4.50, $4.10,
$4.00, $5.05, $4.20
26 private-ownership states: $4.82, $5.29, $4.89,
$4.95, $4.55, $4.90, $5.25, $5.30, $4.29, $4.85, $4.54,
$4.75, $4.85, $4.85, $4.50, $4.75, $4.79, $4.85, $4.79,
$4.95, $4.95, $4.75, $5.20, $5.10, $4.80, $4.29.
A social-scientific study properly begins with a general
question about the nature of the social world such as: Does
state monopoly affect prices? The scientist then must transform
this question into a form that s/he can study scientifically. In
this case, the question was translated into a comparison of these
two sets of data for a single brand as collected from a trade
publication. If the answer is not completely obvious from causal
inspection of the data because of variation within the two
samples - as in the case here, where the two samples overlap -
the researcher may turn to inferential statistics help.
The first step in using probability and statistics is to
translate the scientific question into a statistical question.
Once you know exactly which prob-stats question you want to ask -
- that is, exactly which probability you want to determine -- the
rest of the work is relatively easy. The stage at which you are
most likely to make mistakes is in stating the question you want
to answer in probabilistic terms. Though this step is difficult,
it involves no mathematics. Rather, this step requires only
hard, clear thinking. You cannot beg off by saying "I have no
brain for math!" The need is for a brain to do clear thinking,
rather than a brain for mathematics. People using conventional
methods avoid this hard thinking by simply grabbing the formula
for some test without understanding why they choose that test.
But resampling pushes you to do this thinking explicitly.
The scientific question here is whether the prices in the
two sets of states are systematically different. In statistical
terms, we wish to "test the hypothesis" that there is a "true"
difference between the groups of states based on their mode of
liquor distribution - that is, a difference that is not just the
result of happenstance -- or whether the observed differences
might well have occurred by chance. In other words, we are
interested only in whether the two sub-groups of states are
"truly" different in their liquor prices, or whether the
difference we observe is likely to have been produced by chance
The resampling method proceeds as follows: We consider that
the entire "universe" of possible prices consists of the set of
events that have been observed, because that is all the
information that is available about the universe. We therefore
write each of the forty-two observed state prices on a separate
card, and shuffle the cards together; the deck now simulates a
situation in which each state has the same chance as any other
state of being dealt into a given pile. We can now examine, on
the "null hypothesis" assumption that the two groups of states do
not really reflect different price-setting mechanisms but rather
differ only by chance, how often that universe produces by chance
groups with results as different as those we actually observed in
1961. (In this case, unlike many others, the states constitute
the entire universe we are interested in, rather than being a
sample taken from some larger universe, as is the case when one
does a biological experiment or surveys a small sample draws from
the entire U. S. population, say.)
From the simulated universe we repeatedly deal groups of 16
and 26 cards without replacing the cards, to represent
hypothetical monopoly-state and private-state samples.) We
sample without replacement (and hence for convenience we need
only look at the 16 state set, since, once it is set, the average
of the remaining 26 is also fixed) because there are only 42
actual states for which data is available, and hence we are not
making inferences to a larger, infinite universe. Instead, we
have the entire universe at hand.
The probability that prices in the monopoly states are
"really" lower than those in the private-enterprise states may be
estimated by the proportion of times that the sum (or average) of
those randomly-chosen sixteen prices from the simulated universe
is less than (or equal to) the sum (or average) of the actual
sixteen prices. If we were often to obtain a difference between
the randomly-chose groups equal to or greater than that actually
observed in 1961, we would conclude that the observed difference
could well be due to chance variation.
This logic may not be immediately obvious to the newcomer to
statistics. It is fairly subtle, and requires a bit of practice,
even with the resampling method to bring it to the fore. But
once you understand this way of thinking, you will have reached
the heart of inferential statistics.
The steps again:
Step A. Write each of the 42 prices on a card and shuffle.
Steps B and C (combined in this case): Deal the cards into
groups of 16 and 26 cards. Then calculate the mean price
difference between the groups, and compare the experimental-trial
difference to the observed mean difference of $4.84 - $4.35 =
$.49; if it is as great or greater than $.49, write "yes",
Step D. Repeat step B-C a hundred or a thousand times.
Calculate the proportion "yes", which estimates the probability
The estimate -- not even once in 10,000 trials (see Figure
3) -- shows that it would be very unlikely that two groups with
mean prices as different as were observed would happen by chance
from the universe of 42 observed prices. So we "reject the null
hypothesis" and instead accept the proposition that the type of
liquor distribution system influences the prices that consumers
Under the supervision of Kenneth Travers and me at the
University of Illinois during the early 1970s, PhD candidates
Carolyn Shevokas and David Atkinson studied how well students
learned resampling, working with experimental and control groups
of junior college and four-year college students. Both found
that with resampling methods -- even without the help of computer
simulation -- students produce a larger number of correct answers
to numerical problems than do students taught with conventional
methods. Furthermore, attitude tests as well as teacher
evaluations showed that students enjoy the subject much more, and
are much more enthusiastic about it than conventional methods.
It is an exciting experience to watch graduate engineers or
high-school boys and girls as young as 7th grade re-invent from
scratch the resampling substitutes for the conventional tests
that drive college students into confusion and despair. Within
six or nine hours of instruction students are generally able to
handle problems usually dealt with only in advanced university
The computer-intensive resampling method also provides a
painless and attractive introduction to the use of computers. And
it can increase teacher productivity in the school and university
systems while giving students real hands-on practice.
Monte Carlo methods have long been used to teach
conventional methods. Resampling has nothing to do with the
teaching of conventional "parametric" methods, however. Rather,
resampling is an entirely different method, and one of its
strengths is that it does not depend upon the assumption that the
data resemble the "Normal" distribution. Resampling is the
method of choice for dealing with a wide variety of everyday
statistical problems -- perhaps most of them.
To repeat, the purpose of resampling is not to teach
conventional statistics. Rather, resampling breaks completely
with the conventional thinking that dominated the field until the
past decade, rather than being a supplement to it or an aid to
For those in academia and business who may use statistics in
their work but who will never study conventional analytic methods
to the point of practical mastery -- that is, almost all --
resampling is a functional and easily-learned alternative. But
resampling is not intended to displace analytic methods for those
who would be mathematical statisticians. For them, resampling
can help to understand analytic methods better. And it may be
especially useful for the introduction to statistics of
mathematically-disadvantaged students. (The method is in no way
intellectually inferior to analytic methods, however; it is
logically satisfactory as well as intuitively compelling.)
Though we and the mathematical statisticians who have
developed the bootstrap element in resampling (following Efron's
work in the 1970s) have an identical intellectual foundation,
they and we are pointed in different directions. They see their
work as intended mainly for complex and difficult problems; we
view resampling as a tool for all (or almost all) tasks in prob-
stats. Our interest is in providing a powerful tool that
researchers and decision-makers rather than statisticians can use
with small chance of error and with total understanding of the
Like all innovations, resampling has encountered massive
resistance. The resistance has largely been conquered with
respect to mathematical statistics and advanced applications.
But instruction in the use of resampling at an introductory
level, intended for simple as well as complex problems, still
faces a mix of apathy and hostility.
Estimating probabilities with conventional mathematical
methods is often so complex that the process scares many people.
And properly so, because the difficulties lead to frequent
errors. The statistical profession has long expressed grave
concern about the widespread use of conventional tests whose
foundations are poorly understood. The recent ready availability
of statistical computer packages that can easily perform these
tests with a single command, irrespective of whether the user
understands what is going on or whether the test is appropriate,
has exacerbated this problem.
Probabilistic analysis is crucial, however. Judgments about
whether to allow a new medicine on the market, or whether to re-
adjust a screw machine, require more than eyeballing the data to
assess chance variability. But until now, the practice and
teaching of probabilistic statistics, with its abstruse structure
of mathematical formulas cum tables of values based on
restrictive assumptions concerning data distributions -- all of
which separate the user from the actual data or physical process
under consideration -- have not kept pace with recent
developments in the practice and teaching of descriptive
Beneath every formal statistical procedure there lies a
physical process. Resampling methods allow one to work directly
with the underlying physical model by simulating it. The term
"resampling" refers to the use of the given data, or a data
generating mechanism such as a die, to produce new samples, the
results of which can then be examined.
The resampling method enables people to obtain the benefits
of statistics and probability theory without the shortcomings of
conventional methods, because it is free of mathematical formulas
and restrictive assumptions and is easy to understand and use,
especially in conjunction with the computer language and program
chance 0-191 statwork December 19, 1990
THE RESAMPLING STATS LANGUAGE AND PROGRAM
COMPARED TO BASIC AND OTHER LANGUAGES
The computer language and program RESAMPLING STATS enable
the user to perform experimental trials in the simplest, as well
as more complex, Monte Carlo simulations of problems in
probability and statistics. Most of the twenty or so commands in
RESAMPLING STATS mimic the operations one would make in
conducting such trials with dice or cards; for example, SHUFFLE
randomizes a set of elements. (The rest of the commands are such
as IF, END, and PRINT.) This correspondence between the
computer operations and the physical operations that one would
undertake in a simulation with an urn or playing cards or
whatever, which in turn correspond to the physical elements in
the real situation being modeled, greatly helps the user to
understand exactly what needs to be done with the computer to
arrive at a sound answer.
RESAMPLING STATS employs a fundamentally different logic
than do standard programming languages such as BASIC and PASCAL.
(APL is the only language with a similar logic.) Standard
languages imitate mathematical operations by making a variable -
a single number at a time - the unit that is worked with. In
contrast, RESAMPLING STATS works with a collection of numbers - a
vector. This enables each operation to be completed in one pass,
whereas in other languages there must be repeat loops until each
element in the vector is processed.
Furthermore, whereas other languages name the variable,
RESAMPLING STATS names locations, and moves otherwise-nameless
collections from location to location. In computer logic this
may not be a meaningful distinction. But it is as much a working
distinction as between a) a set of instructions that tell how to
process tourist group 37 - first show them where the bar is, have
their suitcases put away, and get them onto the bus, and b)
instructions that tell what to do with whomever is in hotel A on
January 1 and move them to hotel B, then process whomever is in
hotel B on January 2 and then move them to hotel C, and so on.
RESAMPLING STATS programs are much shorter and clearer than
BASIC programs. Typically, only about half as many instructions
are needed. Here is an example of the same problem written in
the two languages, selected for illustration because it is the
very first problem in the 1987 book THE ART AND TECHNIQUES OF
SIMULATION, by Mrudulla Gnanadesikan, Richard L. Scheaffer, and
Jim Swift, prepared by the American Statistical Association for
use in high schools.
"Outcomes with a Fair Coin: What are the numbers of heads (or
tails) you can expect to get if you flip a given number of coins?"
Please notice that there is a statistics problem closely related
to this probability problem, with the same program used
to solve it. For example: "You have a device that produces (say)
a sample of 15 successes in 20 attempts. How likely is it that
the long-run ("true") rate for the device is 50% successes (or
The BASIC program of Gnanadesikan et. al. is as follows:
BASIC Program to Simulate Trials with Repeated Coin Tosses
80 INPUT "ENTER THE NUMBER OF KEY COMPONENTS";N
100 INPUT "ENTER THE NUMBER OF TRIALS";NT
120 DIM T$(NT,N),C(2*N)
140 FOR i = 1 TO NT
150 LET NH = 0
160 FOR J = 1 TO N
170 LET X = RND (1)
180 IF X < .5 THEN 220
190 T$ (I,J) = "H"
200 NH = NH + 1
210 GOTO 230
220 T$ (I,J) = "T"
230 IF J = N THEN 260
250 GOTO 270
270 NEXT J
280 C(NH + 1) = C(NH + 1) + 1
290 NEXT I
330 FOR K = 1 TO N + 1
350 NEXT K
The BASIC program is written in general form and does not
specify a particular number of coins and heads, as RESAMPLING
STATS does. (It has been simplified by removing the many "print"
statements.) Here is the RESAMPLING STATS program that does the
same job, for a sample of five coins.
REPEAT 100 Run a hundred simulation trials
GENERATE 5 1,2 A Generate randomly a sample of
five "1"s and "2"s
COUNT A 1 B Count the number of "1"s in this trial sample
SCORE B Z Record the results in vector Z
END End the repeat loop
HISTOGRAM Z Graph the results, and also produce a
table of results with their relative and
The results of this RESAMPLING STATS program are in Figure B1.
Do you agree that the RESAMPLING STATS program is not only
much shorter and easier to write, but also is much more obvious
to your intuition?
Even more important, the above program in RESAMPLING STATS
language is written by the user, which leads to learning
about both statistics and computers. In contrast, the BASIC
program given by Gnanadesikan et. al. is pre-written by the
authors, and all the user does is fill in the parameters. The
students therefore do not learn what is necessary to develop an
abstract model of the real-life situation, or write a computer
program to simulate that model, both of which are crucial steps
in the learning process.
[END OF BOX]
THE PRO'S AND CON'S OF RESAMPLING
1) Does Resampling Produce Correct Estimates?
If one does not make enough experimental trials with the
resampling method, of course, the answer arrived at may not be
sufficiently exact. For example, only ten experimental bridge
hands might well produce far too high or too low an estimate of
the probability of five or more spades. But a reasonably large
number of experimental bridge hands should arrive at an answer
which is close enough for any purpose. There are also some
statistical situations in which resampling yields poorer
estimates about the unknown population than does the conventional
parametric method, usually "bootstrap" confidence-interval
estimates made from small samples, especially yes-or-no data. But
on the whole, resampling methods yield "unbiased" estimates, and
not less often than do conventional methods. Perhaps most
important, the user is more like to arrive at sound answers with
resampling because s/he can understand what s/he is doing,
instead of grabbing the wrong formula in error.
2. Do Students Learn to Reach Sound Answers?
In the 1970s, Kenneth Travers, who was responsible for
secondary mathematics at the College of Education at the
University of Illinois, and Simon organized systematic controlled
experimental tests of the method. Carolyn Shevokas's thesis
studied junior college students who had little aptitude for
mathematics. She taught the resampling approach to two groups of
students (one with and one without computer), and taught the
conventional approach to a "control" group. She then tested the
groups on problems that could be done either analytically or by
resampling. Students taught with the resampling method were able
to solve more than twice as many problems correctly as students
who were taught the conventional approach.
David Atkinson taught the resampling approach and the
conventional approach to matched classes in general mathematics
at a small college. The students who learned the resampling
method did better on the final exam with questions about general
statistical understanding. They also did much better solving
actual problems, producing 73 percent more correct answers than
the conventionally-taught control group.
These experiments are strong evidence that students who
learn the resampling method are able to solve problems better
than are conventionally taught students.
3) Can Resampling Be Learned Rapidly?
Students as young as junior high school, taught by a variety
of instructors, and in languages other than English, have in the
matter of six short hours learned how to handle problems that
students taught conventionally do not learn until advanced
university courses. In Simon's first university class, only a
small fraction of total class time -- perhaps an eighth -- was
devoted to the resampling method as compared to seven-eighths
spent on the conventional method. Yet, the tested students
learned to solve problems more correctly, and solved more
problems, with the resampling method than with the conventional
method. This suggests that resampling is learned much faster
than the conventional method.
In the Shevokas and Atkinson experiments the same amount of
time was devoted to both methods but the resampling method
achieved better results. In those experiments learning with the
resampling method is at least as fast as the conventional method,
and probably considerably faster.
4. Is the Resampling Method Interesting and Enjoyable?
Shevokas asked her groups of students for their
opinions and attitudes about the section of the course devoted to
statistics and probability. The attitudes of the students who
learned the resampling method were far more positive -- they
found the work much more interesting and enjoyable -- than the
attitudes of the students taught with the standard method. And
the attitudes of the resampling students toward mathematics in
general improved during the weeks of instruction while the
attitudes of the students taught conventionally changed for the
Shevokas summed up the students' reactions as follows:
"Students in the experimental (resampling) classes were much more
enthusiastic during class hours than those in the control group,
they responded more, made more suggestions, and seemed to be much
Gideon Keren taught the resampling approach for just six
hours to 14- and 15-year old high school students in Jerusalem.
The students knew that they would not be tested on this material.
Yet Keren reported that the students were very much interested.
Between the second and third class, two students asked to join
the class even though it was their free period! And as the
instructor, Keren enjoyed teaching this material because the
students were enjoying themselves.
Atkinson's resampling students had "more favorable opinions,
and more favorable changes in opinions" about mathematics
generally than the conventionally-taught students, according to
an attitude questionnaire. And with respect to the study of
statistics in particular, the resampling students had much more
positive attitudes than did the conventionally-taught students.
The experiments comparing the resampling method against
conventional methods show that students enjoy learning statistics
and probability this way. And they don't show the panic about
this subject often shown by many others. This contrasts sharply
with the less positive reactions of students learning by
conventional methods, even when the same teachers teach both
methods in the experiment.
[END OF BOX]
Edgington, Eugene S., Randomization Tests, Marcel Dekker, N. Y. ,
Efron, Bradley, and Diaconis, Persi; "Computer Intensive Methods
in Statistic," Scientific American, May, 1983, pp. 116-130.
Noreen, Eric W., Computer Intensive Methods for Testing
Hypotheses, Wiley, 1989
Simon, Julian L., Basic Research Methods in Social Science, 1969, N.
Y., Random House (3rd Edition in 1985 With Paul Burstein)
Simon, Julian. L., Atkinson, David. T., and Shevokas, Carolyn.
"Probability and Statistics: Experimental Results of a Radically
Different Teaching Method," American Mathematical Monthly, v.
83, No. 9, Nov. 1976
Simon, Julian. L., Resampling: Probability and Statistics a Radically
Different Way (unpublished manuscript available from the
FIGURE FOR BOX (B1)
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