Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Free Super-Crunching Software

Ian Ayers, author of the book Super Crunchers, has a good round-up of free number-crunching software:

1. Microsoft has a new data-mining add-in that lets you run all kinds of cool statistical procedures inside Excel. Taking a page from the Google playbook, Microsoft is just giving this add-in away (but it only works if you’ve purchased the Office 2007 version of Excel).

2. Google (taking a page from its own playbook) is giving away its Website Optimizer, which will let you run randomized experiments on your own web page.

Any webmaster who is not running randomized trials on different page content is making a serious mistake.

Here’s an explanatory video. I’ve used the Website Optimizer myself and it is a joy to use.

3. I’ve created and assembled links to a bunch of cool “prediction tools” that let you plug in a few numbers and predict how long you’ll live, predict your due date (if you’re pregnant), rate the quality of a book title, or even predict political or sporting contests.

One of the cool things about these tools is that they provide feedback on the precision of predictions that is easy to digest. When you see the results of an experiment like this one below, you have a pretty clear idea of not only the winner, but of how confident you should be in the results.

(As with all other statistical tests, you should not just blindly accept the p-values in the print out, but these graphics are still a huge leap forward.)

4. A fourth freebie is the open-source statistical package called “R.” While most members of the Freakonomics crowd tend to use Stata as their statistical package of choice (and businesses tend to run SAS or SPSS), R is the Linux of statistical software. It lets you do an awful lot for free.

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