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Calculus vrs. Statistics
Posted:
Mar 1, 1996 10:12 AM


In earlier postings to apstatl, Harvard Admissions Dean Fitzsimmons was quoted (secondhand) as saying statistics is more important than calculus in high school:
Marlyn McGrath Lewis, Director of Admissions, responded to my query about this as follows:
"Members of our faculty have done considerable research on the correlations between certain kinds of secondary school preparation and academic success at Harvard. Among the areas they have considered has been mathematics. It is probably too simple to conclude that statistics is absolutely preferable to the calculus for study by high school students, but our faculty members did conclude that proficiency in algebra, functions and graphing is more useful in our curriculum than the study of calculus in high school."
An accompanying pamphlet (1993: _Choosing Courses to Prepare for College) has general advice on how to approach mathematics, and the following specific advice:
"By the time you get to college, the concept of a function, and its representation by a formula, a graph, or a table, should be second nature to you. ... you should be thoroughly familiar with the graphs and behavior of exponential and logarithmic functions, including doubling times and percentage growth rates. The trigonometric functions and the ideas of amplitude, period and phase are important. Scientific notation and the ability to estimate orders of magnitude are frequently used. An increasing number of fields use the basic ideas of probability and statistics, such as mean, median, mode and standard deviation."
"If you are wellversed in algebra, functions and graphing, secondary school calculus will enable you to take more advanced introductory courses in mathematics, physics and chemistry in college. But do not rush into calculus."
The above mention of probability and statistics (and its reduction to measures of central tendency and dispersion) is the only one I found.
By contrast, the advice in the sciences is quite definite and specific:
"...you should study secondary school science for four years if possible: a year of chemistry, physics and biology, and a year of advanced work in one of these disciplines. Courses in psychology, astronomy, geology and anthropology are not appropriate substitutes..." Peter Bruce voice 7035222713 Resampling Stats fax 7035225846 612 N. Jackson St. stats@resample.com Arlington, VA 22201 www.statistics.com



