Statistical Buddy

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Science  18 Dec 1998:
Vol. 282, Issue 5397, pp. 2198
DOI: 10.1126/science.282.5397.2198

Data Desk 6.0 Data Description Inc. Ithaca, NY. $650; $795 (with ActivStats). (607) 257-1000

Identifying the kind of statistical analysis appropriate for a given data set is crucial for any scientific investigation. Data Desk can help with this problem. It is a basic statistical analysis and plotting package that provides a useful statistical environment and recognizes the needs of neophytes. Although lacking some features of comprehensive statistical packages, such as database storage or spreadsheet displays, the program allows rapid calculations in an easy-to-understand manner.

Data Desk was designed initially as an educational accessory, but grew to become a useful research tool. The program's author, P. F. Velleman, also designed the tutorial program called ActivStats that accompanies Data Desk. Using the multimedia capability of the CD-ROM to its fullest, ActivStats provides videos and hands-on demonstrations of computer-based statistical analyses. It can also assign practice exercises and provide access to preinstalled Internet software. ActivStats is especially useful for the novice.

Data Desk's startup window provides functions that guide the user through the program. HyperView windows pop up for each command and permit the user to perform operations by clicking on icons. A quick review of the Data Desk handbook is recommended, however, before attempting to understand the subtleties of the HyperView windows.

Data can be entered in the data table window, imported in text formats from Microsoft Word or Works or in spreadsheet format from Excel, or pasted from the clipboard. Statistical analyses are performed by assigning variables to the data. Users can then access the program's calculation and plotting options. Several parametric and nonparametric analyses can be performed with the “calculate” function. Data Desk provides common statistical functions for researchers in the physical, biological, and social sciences, including data summaries, measures of central tendency, analysis of variance, and moments.

Output can be in the form of bar charts, histograms, line graphs, pie charts, plots, or tables. Graphical displays are simple white-on-black backgrounds that can be modified with colors. Selected parts of a plot can also be isolated, cropped, and rescaled. Data summaries and analyses can be stored as collections (folders) or templates for later work. Templates provide an unalterable framework for repetitive analyses and can also store pictures and notes. The program can be used to create slide shows and contains powerful “what if” analyses that allow the user to see how small, defined changes in data can alter the results.

Data Desk 6.0 runs on Windows 95, Windows NT, or Macintosh operating systems, but not on Windows 98. At least 8 Mb of RAM is required for efficient operation, but only 3 Mb of hard drive space is used. The well-written Data Desk 6.0 handbook and reference manuals provide detailed information about the program. Online help is available at

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