Introduction to Biostatistical Applications in Health Research with Microsoft Office Excel: An interview with author Robert Hirsch

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  • Author: Statistics Views
  • Date: 23 May 2016

Last month, Wiley was proud to publish Introduction to Biostatistical Applications in Health Research with Microsoft Office Excel® by Robert Hirsch, which aims to be a practical and methodological approach to the statistical logic of biostatistics in the field of health research.

Professor Hirsch is on the faculty for the Foundation for the Advanced Education in the Sciences within the Graduate School at the National Institutes of Health and also a retired Professor of Epidemiology and Biostatistics and Adjunct Professor of Statistics at The George Washington University.

Focusing on a basic understanding of the methods and analyses in health research, Introduction to Biostatistical Applications in Health Research with Microsoft® Office Excel® provides statistical concepts for interpreting results using Excel. The book emphasizes the application of methods and presents the most common methodological procedures in health research, which includes multiple regression, ANOVA, ANCOVA, logistic regression, Cox regression, stratified analysis, life table analysis, and nonparametric parallels.

Both an instructor and students resources site are available. Alison Oliver from Statistics Views talks to author Robert Hirsch about the writing process.

thumbnail image: Introduction to Biostatistical Applications in Health Research with Microsoft Office Excel: An interview with author Robert Hirsch

1. Congratulations on the publication of the book Introduction to Biostatistical Applications in Health Research with Microsoft Office Excel. How did the writing process begin?

In the early 80s, when I began teaching statistics to biomedical scientists at the National Institutes of Health, I had trouble finding a textbook appropriate for that audience. These were a special groups of students. They were very intelligent and had a strong desire to understand how things work, but, for the most part, they were not comfortable with mathematical explanations. At that time, it seemed I had to choose between a nonmathematical text that only touched on the simplest statistical procedures or more mathematical texts that discussed some of the more commonly used statistical tests. I chose one of the latter and supplemented it with handouts I wrote to provide a less mathematic approach and to expand the methods addressed. After a few semesters, I was able to scrap the textbook and teach entirely from my handouts.

In 1992, my handouts were published by Blackwell as Statistical First Aid. Interpretation of Health Research Data. I taught from that text for several years, but I continued to learn new ways to communicate about statistics from responding to my students’ seemingly insatiable desire to really understand the subject. As before, I began supplementing the text with handouts I had written until, once again, the handouts replaced the text. That was the beginning of Introduction to Biostatistical Applications in Health Research with Microsoft Office Excel.

2. What were your main objectives during the writing process?

My main objective was to explain statistical principles without relying on mathematics so that nonmathematicians could really understand statistics. My intent was to provide a statistical text that would be accessible to biomedical scientists and would include information they needed to understand analysis of data from their research and research published in the medical literature.

3. The book focuses on a basic understanding of the methods and analyses in health research and provides statistical concepts for interpreting results using Excel. It is constructed around a flowchart. Please could you explain why you decide to base the book around a flow-chart?

Part of what my students want to understand is under what conditions each statistical procedure is used. The flowchart began with this intent. Now, I also use it to help students appreciate the relationships among statistical procedures and discover common themes in statistical logic.

4. The book emphasizes the application of methods and presents and covers the most common methodological procedures in health research such as multiple regression, ANOVA, ANCOVA, logistic regression, Cox regression, stratified analysis, life table analysis, and nonparametric parallels. Please could you tell us more about the workbook that you have written to accompany this title? Will such applications be given in detail?

The workbook serves three purposes. First, it summarizes and organizes information from the chapters of the text book. It does this by providing a chapter summary, a glossary, and a list of equations. Second, it provides additional examples of the methods discussed in each chapter. The answers to these examples are explained in detail. Third, it provides problems to assist student in evaluating their understanding of the material in each chapter. Answers to odd problems are provided in an appendix. Even problems can be used by the instructor as homework or quizzes.

5. If there is one piece of information or advice that you would want your reader to take away and remember after reading your book, what would that be?

Statistics is a logical process that makes sense when presented using a common language.

6. Who should read the book and why?

This book should be read by biomedical researchers who want to understand how to interpret the data they collect in their research. It should also be read by anyone who needs to be able to interpret the medical research literature.

7. Why is this book of particular interest now?

Statistical analysis of health research data has become more sophisticated over the years. This text covers the most commonly used statistical methods in contemporary health research.

8. Were there areas of the book that you found more challenging to write, and if so, why?

The most challenging part of this text was the flowchart. I learned how to select statistical tests by watching my teachers in consulting situations. The process of selecting a test was never made explicit. Making the flowchart meant I had to take what I had learned implicitly and describe it explicitly.

9. What is it about this area of health research that fascinates you?

Statistics really makes sense. What fascinates me is helping students see that this is true.

10. What will be your next book-length undertaking?

I would like to write some monographs that go into more depth on subjects introduced in Introduction to Biostatistical Applications in Health Research with Microsoft Office Excel. For example, topics could include sampling, statistical inference, and diagnostic testing. Also, I have plans for a second edition of Introduction to Biostatistical Applications in Health Research with Microsoft Office Excel that would include an additional chapter on assumptions of statistical tests.

11. You are on the faculty for the Foundation for the Advanced Education in the Sciences within the Graduate School at the National Institutes of Health and also a retired Professor of Epidemiology and Biostatistics and Adjunct Professor of Statistics at The George Washington University. Please could you tell us more about your educational background and what inspired you to pursue your career in biostatistics?

I have always liked mathematics and biology. I was able to combine the two in pursuit of a PhD at Kansas State University. Most of the mathematics courses I took as part of that PhD were in statistics. My first faculty position was at Wake Forest University where I taught statistics to the biology graduate students and served as a statistical consultant to students and faculty. After two years at Wake Forest, I returned to graduate school to receive a MS in epidemiology from Harvard School of Public Health.

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