The Bell Curve

By coincidence, I wrote this poem last week, before I found out about the death of my statistics lecturer Professor Len Dalgliesh, but I would like to dedicate it to him as I know he would appreciate the irony of a psychologist disagreeing with the bell curve. Just in case you don’t know, the bell curve is the statistical normal distribution and variance is the measure of variation from the mean of the distribution. Those who vary too far from the mean are considered far from normal.

The Bell Curve

I am yet to meet a normal person,

a person who is balanced and dancing
in the middle of all bell curves,

so today I am declaring that

I’m at variance with variance,
of the flat paper variety.

Despite what the doctor says,
bell curve normality
is a statistical anomaly
that could use a restrictive diet.

Do you know what happens when bell curves
meet for a drink on Friday night?
They merge salubriously into 3d,

beer goggles aside,

spheres emerge, octopus like
with endless slender legs,
radiating

then

morphing into flesh and blood
human beings.

ps.
I retain the right to retract my variance
on meeting a normal person.

48 thoughts on “The Bell Curve

    • I might have to try setting it to music – thanks Tracey. It has a conversational tone because, to be frank, this is how I talk sometimes in real life (much to the dismay of my husband and friends who have no idea what I’m rabbiting on about half the time). I really don’t know if this is poetry but I don’t care – it’s just a method of writing to get my point across – maybe I could call it a song – haha.

  1. Now I’m going to have that recurring dream I used to have about probability theory and empirical distribution function tests. It was a very weird dream, lots of white walls and clipboards.

    Excellent poem as always. You are able to touch on so many subjects. I am truly impressed!

    • You are so like me sometimes – I used to have stats dreams all the time at uni (studying makes me have the wierdest dreams) – in fact I solved a mathematical problem related to my thesis in my dreaming. Thanks Selma and big hugs to my doppleganger πŸ™‚

  2. The more normal a person appear to be, they surprisingly get more abnormal as you get to know them. It is a subject that get me going very easily so I will keep quiet!
    It is a great poem, I like the bells merging in 3d after a drink.

    • As you know I wrote this poem based on our discussion of normality (thanks for the inspiration – again Ben). Yes, those who look normal are often the most devious – look at all those serial killers where the neighbours say ‘he was so normal looking’ – haha. I thought you’d like the visual of the bell with the legs (I was thinking of your octopus drawing as well when I wrote it). Just in case you don’t know ‘beer goggles’ is an Australian expression meaning everything looks different through the eyes of a drunk person (eg., the unattractive person will begin to look attractive after a few beers).

      • I had the same image also about the octopus.And thanks for explaining beer goggles. I taught it was a play of word with google, computer etc…( a bit long to explain all my thoughts, we would need a beer!)
        So here’s too abnormal normality.
        PS: nice to see Jim from Alaska coming to visit you. I put on my flickr page your poem about cicada. Jim has very interesting art.

  3. shit!

    sorry
    if i knew you are into statistic i would call you to help me with all those papers i had to give.

    seriously

    but it is also great to see, the “beautiful” aesthetic side of that*thing*

    really it is beautiful…

    • Statistics can do your head in can’t they! I remember we would all have to do statistics in a computer room at Uni and it was like going into a clinic full of deeply depressed individuals – I’m glad those windows were welded shut because some days I was feeling like jumping out πŸ˜‰

  4. so sorry for the loss of professor dalgliesh, someone who had a profound impact as a teacher is never to be forgotten. i had to take a course on statistics as part of a psychology ‘humanities’ requirement. i had a very good professor as well who made the subject interesting. he actually tried to encourage me to take up psychology as a second major! (as if!) but i remember one thing he said to the class that has stuck with me: “if you want to be a famous psychologist, what you need to do is find something new to measure”. he had a sort of impish sense of humor but was also serious in a way. i really love this poem, and the idea of the bell curve is intriguing. the shape of it graphically, so clean. but as you point out, real life is a much more than what its shape could contain. (also fascinating that you wrote this before hearing the news)

    • Thanks tipota. The bell curve is a clean shape which says a lot, because statistics is all about cleaning up data and information to form a clear picture. However life is not clean and clear most of the time so there is an artificiality to the practice. It’s a bit like the analysis of love and other emotions – becomes too technical and through the analysis the magic is almost destroyed – somethings are better off being a mystery.

  5. statistically speaking statistics can be read a variety of ways and they change with change and the compiler. πŸ˜‰ This is the most intelligent poem I’ve read this year and you are a clever vixen dearest Gabrielle. πŸ™‚

  6. Oh this is so rich.
    Normal person- everybody is crazy and some of them are honest about it!

    most excellent

    This is what I know about the bell curve- it did not help me one bit in Physics with Calculus ,well, not the first time I took it πŸ™‚

    so sorry about your Professor

    • Thanks opoetoo. Me and physics don’t agree – makes my head hurt. Doctors love the bell curve – too tall, too short, too stupid, too fat, too thin, too sad, too happy, too sociable, too antisocial, too daring, too scared, too active, too passive etc., etc., etc, – endless number of attributes to measure and compare. I feel another poem coming on πŸ˜‰

      • You made me think of Spirit – Animal Zoo.
        I dont exactly know for sure what they were getting at but I dont think it is too far from where you are going:
        **********************
        Lookin’ at my body
        I’m slipping down, so far
        The air I breathe and the water I drink
        Is selling me short and turning me round

        Everyone I see now
        On their way too, everybody
        So don’t look now and don’t ask how
        We’re gonna find our way at home to the animal zoo?

        Oh no something went wrong<<<<<<<<<<
        Well you're much too fat and a little too long <<<<<<<<<<
        Hey hey got too much to lose
        Gotta get on home to the animal zoo
        ***************************************
        okay I will quit being obnoxious and wasting space here now.
        Hey I cant help it – Im not normal you know πŸ™‚

  7. Bell Curves–LOL–I learned that not everything does the curving bell thing some years back when researching the test scores of the Kansas City, Missouri School District. Had access to everything needed. Learned that in a district of approximately 77,000 at the time–according to the test scores approximately 75,000 students had FLATLINED– Absolutely NO CURVE at all in the test scores for several years. District did NOT have enough students in the entire district to fill a prep school program that ran grades 6 through 12. Had spaces for about 1,200 children. All they had to do was score at the 50 percentile in Math and Reading. Then they had to maintain a C average to stay in the school. I guess that would be called the Bell Curve Flush? Gee–this triggered ‘a rant’!

    • Hahahahaha – yes, I know about other shaped curves. Alcohol consumption is lognormally distributed with a long thin tale to the left and all the alcoholics are in this tail (I did my masters degree on the subject – to estimate the number of heavy drinkers who would benefit from treatment, so we could then estimate how much money the government would need to fork out to help them – are the memories – that thesis was a nightmare).

  8. As someone with a degree in psychology and memories of battling with my own statistics class (my professor literally wrote the book we used – and he tested it by making us teach ourselves from it!!!)- I enjoyed this poem so much, Gabrielle. “I’m at variance with variance” – WONDERFUL!!!!!

    • Outliers are pretty cool – it’s important to look carefully at your data to see if outliers are having too much influence on the data set as a whole – I’d never delete you from the data set squirrel πŸ™‚

  9. Pingback: Works I Enjoyed (September 2010) « Utopian Fragments

  10. In all fairness to bell curves, variance, et co.:

    o On any given bell curve, a very sizeable part of the population is not close to the average—exactly because of variance.

    o The more (uncorrelated) bell curves are considered, the less likely it becomes for any individual to be close to the average of all of them.

    In other words, your observation that you have yet to meet “a person who is balanced and dancing in the middle of all bell curves” is exactly what boring old school-book probability theory predicts.

    • Exactly! I did say it was the flat paper variety that I had a problem with, not variance in general. In fact, variance makes the world go round – haha. Thanks for stopping by michaeleriksson πŸ™‚ I see by your blog that you do know what you are talking about.

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