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Against All Odds: Inside Statistics

This video series shows students the relevance of statistics in real-world settings.

A video instructional series on statistics for college and high school classrooms and adult learners; 32 6- to 14-minute video modules and coordinated guides.

Picking up where the original Against All Odds left off in the 1980s, the new series maintains the same emphasis on “doing” statistics. Each unit is based on a video module that introduces a statistical topic in real-world context and takes you on location to where people from all walks of life are using statistics in their work. Starting with descriptive statistics, the course continues through probability and inference. Examples range from finding patterns in lightning strikes, to examining possible genetic resistance to deadly Lassa fever in West Africa, to linking DDT to the decline of peregrine falcons. Online interactive tools allow students to practice and use whey they’ve learned.

NOTICE: The original 30-minute Against All Odds programs are no longer available. We regret the inconvenience.

Course Overview

The new Against All Odds is intended as a one-year introduction to statistics. Made up of vivid real-world examples, our goal is to present statistics in the context of its contemporary use. Host Dr. Pardis Sabeti guides viewers through the wide range of statistical applications used by scientists, business owners, and even Shakespeare scholars, in their work and daily lives.

Starting with descriptive statistics, the series continues through probability and inference. Each unit builds on preceding ones to expand students’ statistical knowledge and solidify their understanding of how the concepts fit together. Statistical case studies range from finding patterns in lightning strikes, to linking DDT to the decline of peregrine falcons, to analyzing salaries to lobby for comparable pay for men and women. After watching the videos, viewers can dig deeper on the coordinated materials on the website, which features additional content coverage, as well as interactive tools to explore and exercises and review questions to work through.

Against All Odds takes you inside statistics!


Individual Unit Descriptions

1. What Is Statistics?
Statistics is the art and science of gathering, organizing, analyzing and drawing conclusions from data. And without rudimentary knowledge of how it works, people can’t make informed judgments and evaluations of a wide variety of things encountered in daily life.

2. Stemplots
As a first step in visualizing data, we use stemplots to understand measurements taken by the U.S. Army when they size up soldiers in order to design well-fitting gear and supplies for modern warfighters.

3. Histograms
Meteorologists use histograms to map when lightning strikes and this visualization technique helps them understand the data in new ways.

4. Measures of Center
It’s helpful to know the center of a distribution — which is what the clerical workers in Colorado Springs found out in the 1980s when they campaigned for comparable wages for comparable work. Mean and median are two different ways to describe the center.

5. Boxplots
Using the example of hot dog calorie counts, we use boxplots to visualize the five-number summary and make comparisons between different types of frankfurters.

6. Standard Deviation
How can we compare sales at two franchises in the Wahoo’s restaurant chain? Standard deviation helps us quantify the variability in sales.

7. Normal Curves
A nature preserve that’s tracked bird migrations through New England for decades records tons of bird-related data; everything from wingspan measurements to arrival dates provides examples of normal distributions.

8. Normal Calculations
Visit the Boston Beanstalks club for tall people. Height is normally distributed and we can use membership cutoffs and population data to calculate z-scores.

9. Checking Assumption of Normality
Production at Pete and Gerry’s Organic Eggs provides a number of distributions that look normal — but are they?

10. Scatterplots
Plotting annual numbers of Florida powerboat registrations and manatee killings suggests an uncomfortable relationship for the marine mammals.

11. Fitting Lines to Data
Winter snowpack in the Colorado Rockies can predict spring water supply. Plotting annual measurements in a scatterplot lets resource managers draw a regression line that helps them forecast water availability.

12. Correlation
Twin studies track how similar identical and fraternal twins are on various characteristics, even if they don’t grow up together. Correlation lets researchers put a number on it.

13. Two-Way Tables
One city surveyed the happiness of its residents. Two-way tables help organize the data and tease out relationships between happiness levels and opinions about aspects of the city itself.

14. The Question of Causation
This historical story describes how researchers untangled the relationship between smoking and lung cancer.

15. Designing Experiments
We move beyond observational studies — like one of marine life in the remote Line Islands — to designing experiments that manipulate various subject groups — as in the case of a medical study about osteoarthritis treatments.

16. Census and Sampling
The U.S. counts every resident every ten years — or at least tries to. Statisticians use sampling from a population as an alternative to a complete count, as utilized at a potato chip factory.

17. Sample and Surveys
A visit to the University of New Hampshire Survey Center illustrates how pollsters create accurate surveys. They can then use details from their sample to make inferences about a whole population.

18. Introduction to Probability
Probability is the mathematics of chance behavior — and can help predict events such as the daily weather, or whether an asteroid will collide with Earth.

19. Probability Models
Casinos are as well versed in probability as statisticians and probability models help them maintain the house advantage over gamblers.

20. Random Variables
The Challenger space shuttle disaster was blamed on faulty O-rings. How can probability calculations on random variables help predict the chances of this kind of failure?

21. Binomial Distributions
Sickle cell disease is an example of binomial distribution in families with two parents who are carriers for this genetic trait.

22. Sampling Distributions
Heights of third graders in one class. Quality scores for circuit boards at a factory. Taking multiple samples allows us to visualize the sampling distribution of the sample mean.

23. Control Charts
This quality control method helped Quest Diagnostics streamline and improve their system for processing and testing lab samples so they could meet their nightly deadlines.

24. Confidence Intervals
A battery manufacturer tests just a sample of its product to verify its claims about battery life. A margin of error and a confidence level help quantify its accuracy.

25. Tests of Significance
Is a newly-discovered poem really written by William Shakespeare? Using statistical analysis of his known word use, researchers set up null and alternative hypotheses to investigate.

26. Small Sample Inference for One Mean
A brewer uses this technique to monitor quality differences in multiple batches of the same beer.

27. Comparing Two Means
Comparing the activity and calorie expenditure levels of Western office workers and African hunter gatherers adds some surprising new data to the science of obesity.

28. Inference for Proportions
Managers have no clue what conditions actually motivate their workers best, as shown by research conducted by Teresa Amabile, host of the original Against All Odds.

29. Inference for Two-Way Tables
Host Dr. Pardis Sabeti’s own research examines possible genetic resistance to deadly Lassa fever in West Africa. Using Inference for Two-Way Tables helps untangle potential relationships.

30. Inference for Regression
Historical story of how statisticians built the case against DDT as the culprit behind plummeting peregrine falcon population numbers.

31. One-Way ANOVA
Does holding a heavier clipboard make you estimate that a jar of coins has more money in it than if you’re holding a lighter clipboard? Psychologists use One-Way ANOVA to analyze the data from this experiment.

32. Summary
This review of the course through the preceding 31 video modules provides an overview of the practice of statistics and helps students appreciate how statistical methods can help them better understand their world.

About the Host

Dr. Pardis Sabeti is a computational geneticist who uses statistics in her own work combing through the evolutionary record found in our genes. She’s developed algorithms to detect the genetic signatures of adaptation in humans and the microbial organisms that infect us. One part of her current research investigates the evolutionary history of the deadly hemorrhagic disease Lassa fever, which is widespread in West Africa. Learning more about the genomes of microbes that cause diseases like Lassa, Ebola, and malaria should help in the development of treatments and cures.

Statistics is critical to all aspects of Pardis’s research – from mining genomes for evidence of adaptation or association with clinical outcomes, to demonstrating the efficacy of functional experiments. She is thrilled to be part of Against All Odds and hopes to engage the next generation of scientists in the critical role statistics plays in moving science forward – and the great fun that can be had in its pursuit.

Pardis is currently an Associate Professor at Harvard University and a Senior Associate Member of the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT. She was born in Tehran, Iran and immigrated to the United States at the age of two. After receiving her undergraduate degree from MIT, Pardis continued on to Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar, and completed her medical degree at Harvard Medical School, where she was only the third woman to graduate summa cum laude. She’s a strong supporter of women in science and science education in the U.S. and abroad. And somehow Pardis also has time to perform as the lead singer of the rock band Thousand Days.

To learn more about Pardis and her work, check out this article or video from Smithsonian Magazine.

Goals and Intended Audience

Statistics is one of the most important and useful subjects taught in school, affecting us in our daily lives and as concerned citizens. If you look through a college catalog, you’ll see references to statistics in more departments than any other course of study. The goal of Against All Odds is to teach the basic tools and procedures of statistics in the context of applications important in our lives. You’ll learn how statistics works – while meeting the people who put statistics to work.

This material can be the basis of an introductory college statistics offering as well as an AP course. Against All Odds is also an excellent refresher or introduction to statistics for adult learners who are returning to school or anyone who just wants to make sense of the world around us.

Course Components

Each unit is based on a video module that introduces a statistical topic in real-world context. Complementing each video module are a Student Guide and Faculty Guide specific to the unit. These go into greater depth on the statistical concepts and contain valuable exercises and review material.

To get started on a particular unit, check out the list of statistical topics and the video stories that illustrate them on the Video Unit page.

How to Use this Course

Against All Odds is made up of 32 units. These units are meant to be worked on in order, with the first being a general introduction and the last a summary. As a student, you should begin your work on a unit by watching the video module all the way through. While you’re watching, you’ll want to have the Student Guide for the unit open to the section called “The Video” so you can answer the questions about what you’re viewing. Your next step should be working through the rest of the Student Guide. It will provide formal definitions, more details about the statistical procedures introduced, some worked examples, and a number of practice exercises with answers. Many of the units also contain activities, some of which make use of online interactive tools to further illustrate the statistical procedures. To quickly look up important terms introduced in the video modules, turn to the online Glossary.

Course Credits

Project Manager

Dr. Sol Garfunkel

Chief Content Advisor & Student and Faculty Guides Writer

Dr. Marsha Davis

Executive Producer

Graham Chedd


Dr. Pardis Sabeti


Maggie Villiger

Associate Producer

Katharine Duffy


Seth Bender

Brian Truglio

Jared Morris

David Berenson

Bret Upham

Director of Photography

Dan Lyons

Additional Camera

Noah Brookoff

Griffin Nash

Peter Hoving

Ken Fraser


Timothy Wessel

Dan Casey

Dave Graceffa

John Gage

Jonathan Goldman

Sound Mix

Richard Bock


Jason Tierney

Title Animation

Jeremy Angier

Web & Interactive Developer

Matt Denault / Azility, Inc.

Website Designer

Dana Busch

Production Assistant

Kristopher Cain


Kelly Cronin

Sue Willard-Kiess

Marlea Regan


Amber Voner

Emily Damron

Based on the original Annenberg/CPB series Against All Odds

Executive Producer

Joe Blatt

Annenberg Learner Program Officer

Michele McLeod

Copyright © 2014 Annenberg Learner



The American Statistician“…we conclude that Against All Odds is an impressive and creative attempt to use “high-tech” media in the teaching of statistics, and many programs in the series can be useful adjuncts to traditional formal instruction….In addition, they are mostly intellectually challenging and present statistics as part of an informed person’s general knowledge rather than as numerical drudgery.”


“…even the most “low-tech” professors will be impressed with both the entertaining and expository quality of these videos and will want to use at least some of them in their classrooms…videos that clearly show how statistical processes can be used to answer significant inquires. Enthusiastically recommended for all corporate and college libraries.”

Video Rating Guide

“Four Stars.”

“Whenever possible, graphics are used to illustrate the mathematics and stories are used to illustrate the purpose and meaning of the statistics….This series is ideally suited for college libraries looking for a comprehensive video study of statistics. It may also be suitable for other libraries involved with adult continuing education…”

Video Librarian

“Three-and-a-half Stars.”

Against All Odds creatively uses visual stories to illustrate the formulas it teaches. And therein lies the difference between this series and a statistics textbook….”

Chance: New Directions for Statistics and Computing

“…if only a small proportion of the community were to watch these tapes, the tapes would have a large influence in the overall understanding of what statistics is about and what statistics can do….Against All Odds clearly demonstrates that television and the video medium can be an excellent way to teach about statistics.”


American Film and Video Festival
1989 Finalist Award for “Case Study”Columbus International Film and Video Festival
1990 Honorable Mention Award for “Random Variables”

International Association of Audio Visual Communicators
1990 Honorable Mention “Cindy” in Graphic Effects for “Random Variables”

International Film and TV Festival of New York
1990 Finalist Award for “Random Variables”

Faculty Guides

Student Guides