Statistics in a flash with Wolfram Alpha

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Wolfram Alpha screenshot

Quick! You need to know the population growth rate of Uganda but you don’t want to search through a thousand websites to find the answer. And you need to know it now. What to do? Ask Wolfram Alpha! (By the way, the answer is 3.33% per year, according to said website.)

Wolfram Alpha is an “answer engine”, which is different from a search engine (like Google) that usually gives you links to other websites rather than the immediate answer you want. It’s built on Wolfram’s earlier product, Mathematica, a programming package that encompasses numerical computation, visualization, and statistics capabilities (i.e. you can trust its capabilities with numbers. If you type in “(9*(86+3))+(134/12)+27”, you’ll get an answer expressed in 7 different but accurate ways).

Wolfram Alpha also provides non-specific queries and will produce a result that best illustrates the answer you’re searching for:

Life expectancy of 25 year old male in Japan: (Answer: 79.93 years)
Average weight of a 20 year old female in Argentina: (Answer: approx. 149 lbs)
lim(x->0) x/sin x: (Answer: 1)

It also responds to more complex, fact-based questions such as:

What is the 29th smallest country by GDP per capita? (Answer: Ghana)
How old was Ronald Reagan in 1978? (Answer: 66 years old)
Where was Mark Zuckerberg born? (Answer: Dobbs Ferry, NY. Which has the population of over 11,000 people, if you cared to know)

If these don’t convince you yet, check out more examples on their examples page.

Wolfram Alpha’s database currently includes hundreds of datasets, including current and historical weather, drug data, star charts, currency conversion, and many others. The datasets have been accumulated over approximately two years, and are expected to grow. If you’re weary about where all of this information comes from, you can click the “Source Information” button at the bottom of the page.


Quick tip for using World Development Indicators (WDI)

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The World Bank’s World Development Indicators is a great source for finding indicators and variables related to world development. The neat thing about this resource is that you can build your own database by picking-and-choosing your own countries, variables, and time frame for analysis.

When  you open WDI’s website (tip: there is a bookmarked button in each of the browsers of our lab computers), you will be prompted to choose which countries you want to analyze (if you want to analyze all of them, click on ‘Select All’). After you click ‘Next’, choose which variables you want for your study. After that, choose the year.

You will then come to a screen that looks like this:

You'll come to a screen that looks like this. Minus the doodles.

Here you have the freedom to arrange how your data will be exported. (WDI exports to Excel). If you export your data without making any changes, it will look something like this:

World Development Indicators screenshot

This probably does not look like the example datasheet you’ve seen in your quant class. Generally, you’ll want your indicators to appear across the top row and have data down each column, not jumbled down one column, and you’ll want your country cases to be unique to each row.  In order to achieve this, you’ll need to perform a little switch-a-roo with the time and series boxes (on the WDI export screen. Now the red doodles make sense!).

Click and drag the ‘Time’ button to the Row box and the ‘Series’ button to the ‘Column box’. Export again, and you’ll end up with something like this:

World Development Indicators screenshot

Now each country case is on a different row, and each variable has a different column. At this point you can clean up your data by deleting some unwanted columns (you may not need the country code, year, or year code columns, especially if you’re just working with one year). If you intend to export this Excel data sheet to SPSS or STATA, you will need to rename your variables into names that are friendly to those programs (i.e. short, no spaces, no unusual characters, etc).

As always, ask a consultant for help if you get lost or have any questions!

Research Discussion/Luncheon at SSRL Lab: Friday, March 25th @ 11:30 am

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Come and discover what the “Research” in Social Science Research really means.

Here at the SSRL, our main focus is to promote research. We’re not limited to just your statistics class term projects; we celebrate the spirit of academic research in the entire AU community. We do this by promoting and sharing the research work of our fellows, staff, and visiting scholars. To show our support of our AU scholars, we are hosting a series of research discussion luncheons that kicks off this coming March 25, 2011.

*Lunch will be provided!*

March 25th Presenters

The March 25th event (which is our first research discussion of the Spring) will include two presentations by Tom Balemesa, a researcher with the U.S. Peace Corps, and María Ivanova Reyes, a PhD in Economics candidate here at American University.

Tom Belamesa


Perhaps a new victim of the renewed scramble for Africa, Uganda has capacity to produce 25,000 barrels of oil per day, an approximate of 2 billion US$ per year (70% per capita) in earnings from the estimated 2 billion barrels in reserves. Amidst these expectations and realities lie the threats to the abode to the indegenous people in the oil explored areas. The study centered on the relationship between oil exploration and land conflicts, role of government in oil exploration and adressing the land issues, effects of the activity and durable solutions.

María Ivanova Reyes Peguero


The impact of the 2008 global financial crisis on the Caribbean, and specifically on the English speaking Caribbean nations, was deeper than in the rest of Latin America. With the exception of the Dominican Re-public, Guyana, Haiti and Suriname which experienced a moderate slowdown from their pre-crisis growth levels, other Caribbean nations exhibited a strong growth contraction during 2009. The large impact of the crisis in these economies is attributable to their high dependence on the United States (and the UK to a lesser extent) as trade partner or source of foreign direct investment, tourism and remittances. Empirical analysis of economic cycles by the authors shows that the English Speaking Caribbean countries tend to magnify the effects of booms or contractions that occur in the US much more than its peers.

We look forward to seeing you on Friday!

Links to datasets now available [above ^]

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Are you still searching for extra data for your statistics project? Perhaps trying to look for data to get started? Look no further, because we’ve got a list of suggestions for you literally one click away.

In the brown binding of our virtual “notebook” that you see on this blog, you will find a tab for Data Links, which is a compilation of external links to resources that you may find helpful for your research. Many of these links have data sets available for your own statistical analysis. This tab is always a work in progress, as we often get new links to add to our list, so it is a good idea to check it once in a while. Also, if you have a suggestion for a data source, please let us know! In the near future, we will transfer this information to our official website.

If you need help downloading any of the datasets from any of those links, do not hesitate to ask a consultant.


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Are you still trying to decide which statistical package to use for your research project? Take a quick tip from one of our consultants to help make your decision:

These are some of the pros and cons of using SPSS or Stata for your research analyses.


SPSS is good for managing basic datasets and if you are not going to do cutting-edge statistical analysis.  Its biggest advantage is that it is user friendly because its layout is so much like the familiar Excel spreadsheet.

Although both SPSS and Stata have a menu-driven option, the point and click menus in SPSS are the easiest to learn. You could say that SPSS has moved away from an academic research focus and seems to invest more of its development in marketing-oriented graphics. Many NGO’s, banks and related type entities would most likely not use SPSS for their work and would choose Stata over it.

SPSS’s graphics are very professional and they look appealing. The great thing about graphics generated on SPSS is that you can edit them as you please (colors, labels, size, etc).

SPSS screenshot


This program is widely used in NGO’s, banks and many other organizations that require data analysis. It is best for complex statistical analyses. Unlike SPSS’s “drop-down menu” feature, Stata tends to be more “command-based”.

The first window you encounter will not be the friendly table layout that you may be used to seeing in Excel. The layout may catch you by surprise, but once you get used to what each window tells you, it becomes fairly easy to use. It has a command window in which you can type exactly what you want to do (i.e. for a regression between two variables named “infmort” and “doctors” you would type: “reg infmort doctors”, hit Enter and your regression analysis pops up).  It is very intuitive and produces very professional output tables.

Stata screenshot

If you can’t decide which program to use for your analysis, consider even using both.  As always, ask a consultant for help if you need further assistance!

Use Dreamweaver to Showcase Your Research (or Yourself)

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Adobe DreamweaverStatistics is the name of our game…and so is data visualization. One of the ways we can help get your long hours of research known to the world is to get it online. And what better way to do that than create a website?

Adobe Dreamweaver is available on each of the computers in our lab. With Dreamweaver, you will be able to create a website without the knowledge of HMTL. The design view will allow you to create your website the way it will appear on a browser.

What’s another great reason to get started on creating a website? As a student of American University, you get access to free webhosting provided by the university so that you can launch your web site free of charge. This space is located in a folder in your G:/ drive called “www” (if you are a staff or faculty member, you will need to speak with your department to get access to this).  Take advantage of the free space that AU offers you!

Even if you don’t have a project to show off, you can create a personal website that highlights you and your personal achievements. These days it’s a great idea to have a website that showcases your work portfolio for job opportunities. If you need help getting started, a consultant in the lab is ready to assist.

*New* Spring Break 2011 Hours

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Spring Screen

Our labs are open during Spring Break

Don’t have plans to leave campus for spring break? Get excited, because the SSRL lab will be open during spring break…but for shorter hours.

Get your pre-summer tan while basking in the rays of our computer monitors. The hours of operation of the Hurst lab will be:

Saturday-Sunday, March 5-6: CLOSED
Monday-Friday, March 7-11: 9:30 am – 5:30 pm
Saturday-Sunday, March 12-13: 10:00 am – 7:00 pm

The SPA lab (Ward ST01) will close on Friday, March 4 and reopen on March 14 at 9:30 am. (So, basically closed for all of Spring Break)

After the break, the labs will resume normal operating hours.

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