Abstract Thinking

In which Brian debates abstraction with T-Bone

_Editor’s Note: This is the first in a set of point-counterpoint posts related to the value of abstract thinking in graduate education that we teased a few days ago. Brian Caffo, recently installed Graduate Program Director at the best Biostat department in the country, has kindly agreed to lead off with the case for abstraction. We’ll follow up later in the week with my counterpoint. In the meantime, there have already been a number of really interesting and insightful comments inspired by our teaser post that are well worth reading.

How important is abstract thinking for graduate students in statistics?

A recent lunchtime discussion here at Hopkins brought up the somewhat-controversial topic of abstract thinking in our graduate program. We, like a lot of other biostatistics/statistics programs, require our students to take measure theoretic probability as part of the curriculum. The discussion started as a conversation about whether we should require measure theoretic probability for our students. It evolved into a discussion of the value of abstract thinking (and whether measure theoretic probability was a good tool to measure abstract thinking).