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Re: st: Intro social science stats book

From   Suzy <>
Subject   Re: st: Intro social science stats book
Date   Mon, 03 Jul 2006 11:55:21 -0400

I was one of those SPSS students (in the USA) until I learned about and then mostly taught myself Stata. Here are a few other reasons why many more students learn/use SPSS - from my experience:

1. SPSS and SAS are classes that were required in my program (not a social science); to this day, there are no formal Stata classes that are taught or even offered as an elective through the progam course offerings. Were it not for the excellent on-line help and tutorials, websites from the number of select universities that do use and promote Stata, and this statalist, it would have been much harder to make the switch.

2. "Most" established professors that I know use SAS or SPSS, so they can't help with Stata questions at all. I've found that the "younger" professors actually tend to use R. This is a severe detriment for homework assignments and research projects - see #1.

3. I know I'll probably get slammed from other users on this sight, but I still think the graphics are way too complex (inflexible) and/or boring, and I do have the graphics manual for Stata v. 9. The Stata graphics are just not fun IMHO. I've found the best graphs have come from the user generated programs, and not the main Stata program.

4. The price point is OK, but it could be much, much better for students. Updating to version 9. and buying the manuals broke the bank.

The very few classes that I took that used Stata (how I first learned about it) had supplemental course manuals that were developed by the professor, which included plenty of explicit code, output, and graphics, and that worked great. The course manual ended up being the primary "book", while the textbook ended up serving as the supplement.

**I would like to add though that learning a new software program while simultaneous learning new course material is not ideal and most students will consider that as a negative in course evaluations, unless perhaps there is a supplemental weekly lab that is dedicated to the software portion of things.**

The good news is that it seems that once a student learns about Stata and uses Stata for a few semesters, it is highly likely that they will become bonafide exclusive Stata-users. I never went back to SPSS and neither did many other students. I've always promoted Stata over SPSS and SAS. If a student is well-versed in SPSS or SAS, Stata is a breeze to learn (as far as the basic descriptive statistics and regressions - to include diagnostics). The learning curve is really about the magnitude of the statistical capabilities of Stata.

Off the beaten track somewhat, but something that might be helpful in the long run for encouraging new Stata users, which I've suggested once before and I'll bring it up again. It might be nice to also have a beginner/student Stata listserv - something just a bit more newbie/student friendly. By that I mean a little more easy-going, not too protocol intensive, a place where perhaps more basic questions can be just asked and answered without too much fuss or concern. I truly believe that many students simply can't afford the manuals, don't know where to look for information, and truly do not have the time to spend looking for an answer that is perhaps easy to find (for those with extended exposure to the world of Stata). Since younger people tend to use the Internet and listservs quite a bit, their first exposure to Statalist might be a bit of a shocker - I know it was for me and I'm not that young. Nonetheless, I got over it, learned the basic rules, and try to follow them as best as I can. However, not all students may be so inclined.

These comments are from a student that was converted from exclusive SPSS user to exclusive Stata user,

Richard Atkins wrote:

Why do so many books provide SPSS examples?

I used to teach research methods and stats to psychology students in
the UK and the use of SPSS was so widespread at both under- and
post-graduate levels that there was no real competition. In fact most of
my colleagues teaching research methods knew no other statistical
packages with the possible exception of microtab.

I think the reasons for this were largely historical. Before the
company rebadged itself and its product as SPSS (as a name rather than
an acronym) it was S.P.S.S. which stood for Statistical Package for the
Social Sciences. I suspect the name change reflected a broadening of the
target market but the program had previously been marketed specifically
at social scientists and has been used in social science courses for
years. In the UK, the use of SPSS is so widespread that all the
undergraduate students want it on their CV. Nearly all postgraduate
social science (or at least psychology and sociology) courses use SPSS
so if you don't teach SPSS at undergraduate level the students complain
they are being disadvantaged.

Apart from tradition, there is also entropy. In many institutions the
staff who teach stats to psychology students are not statisticians but
psychologists for whom statistics is at best a peripheral interest. I
expect they would generally resist if not resent the idea of having to
learn a new stats package. My experience of discussing the merits of
other stats packages with colleagues has been that their eyes glaze over
as you rattle off the advantages of programs like Stata. Such benefits
are of no consequence to people who teach a minimalistic,
painting-by-numbers way of doing statistics and whose requirements of a
stats program is basically the same as the students: that you click a
few times with the mouse and then it "does the stats for you".

Richard J. Atkins 07/01/06 4:39 pm >>>

Date: Fri, 30 Jun 2006 10:55:45 -0700 (PDT)
From: M Hollis <>
Subject: st: Intro social science stats book

This fall I'll be teaching an intro stats course to
undergraduates in sociology and other social sciences.
I'm beginning to search around for the elusive
perfect textbook and I'm wondering if folks have
suggestions. I'm looking for a book that emphasizes
intuition about statistics and their proper use rather
than a mathematically-oriented one that focuses on
deriving the formulas.

Having taught this class since 1983, I can report the disappointing observation that the available books seem to have become worse and worse over time---- or perhaps I have become more and more demanding :-} I think the class of the market here is Agresti and Finlay's book, but it's probably a bit too hard for undergraduates in the social sciences at most schools. Two very popular books I would not recommend are Healey's Statistics: A Tool for Social Research (too much emphasis on formulae and computation, not very conceptual, poor homework problems), and Levin and Fox's Elementary Statistics (Hall of Shame quote from 10th ed., p. 232: "Put simply, P is the exact probability that the null hypothesis is true in light of the sample data....) This fall, I'm trying Nachmias-Frankfort and Leon-Guerrero's Statistics for a Diverse Society which, despite the rather touch-feely title, appears to have some real virtues, e.g., a focus on understanding relationships as opposed to testing uninteresting hypotheses. It postpones sampling distributions and hypo. testing to the end of the book, which I am convinced is the right way to do things.

In my ideal world, the book
would provide Stata examples, but that seems to be a
rare occurance.
I think that Rich Williams' answer of *why* is right on target, but I wouldn't worry about this too much. I think there are pedagogical reasons not to bother with statistical packages in the introductory class, at least not in the context of a 3-credit course. I have even seen at least one research article supporting this view, although I wouldn't say I'm totally convinced.


Mike Lacy
Fort Collins CO USA
(970) 491-6721 office

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