Monday, March 16, 2015

Mod 1: Feeling (Statistically) Insignificant

First, some advice for future 20.109 students, budget your time well on this assignment. It takes a long time and a lot of thought. I made the mistake of trying to get a reasonable amount of sleep every night last week. I should have stayed up a little later during the week so that I could chip away at the abstract and data summary, but instead I went to bed and left the majority of the work for last night. I realized my mistake at 4:00 AM.

Now to the prompt. By far the hardest part of this assignment was the analysis. Figuring out how to present the data and then interpret it is not something I have really done before, so I found it hard to figure out what I wanted to say. I was not helped by the low sample number and high noise involved in our experiments. With large data sets it is much easier to observe patterns because you can step back and look at the big picture. However with only 8 birds it is very hard to step back because there isn't a big picture to look at, there is no clear-cut result. The small data set problem also applies to the samples taken from each bird. Microbiomes are much larger than the roughly 10 species that we were able to sequence in each gull. With such a small sample number, even if the entire set of sequences from a given gull were all the same species, that would not necessarily be a significant result. Since the data were so inconclusive I had a lot of trouble deciding what to say about them. I found myself wondering "is that really a trend or am I just making it up, and how can I tell the difference with so few data points?". I know that it is acceptable to be inconclusive on this assignment, but I still am not quite comfortable writing something up if I am not very sure about what I am writing.

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