Saturday, August 27, 2016

Excel and statistics

This spring I worked through an entire statistics class in Excel (well, mostly in Excel). This is mostly because I somehow never actually learned any statistics in college and still have to understand the concepts for translation, but also partly because I've done some other math-oriented stuff in Excel and wanted to learn more about that.

Here's the thing: like many Microsoft tools, Excel can be incredibly powerful - as long as you're using it the way its designers conceived. Go off the reservation and abruptly things get very difficult.

But it's worse. Turns out that specifically for statistics, Excel kind of sucks. Like, wrong-answer-level sucks. The recommendation of the article in the link: use R (or some commercial statistics package).

So here's an interesting idea: wouldn't it be interesting to build a spreadsheet tool that translates to R behind the scenes? Plus has somewhat better handling of tabular data? (That part drives me crazy in Excel: I have to know the shape of my data in advance.)

There might well be such a tool already. If not, it would be fun to build it.

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