I’ve used Smarties many times in statistics workshops to introduce ideas of sampling and distributions.*
In a loose sense, each box is a sample from the “Great Smarties Universe”. Individual boxes don’t all contain exactly the same number of sweets. Nor do they have the same distribution of colours.
So I thought I’d use Smarties in my presentation on communicating statistics at an event organised by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations’ Greater London Group.
I put out lots of boxes ahead of the talk so that attendees could count the total number of sweets in a box. We could then see how much variation in numbers there was. We could even get counts of the numbers for different colours.
As my co-presenter, Katharine Peacock of ComRes, was giving excellent advice on commissioning surveys, I became very aware of much munching in the audience.
Out of 35 boxes I got counts of total numbers from just seven: 30, 30, 30, 31, 32, 32 and 32. How can we interpret these numbers? From lowest to highest that’s just two sweets – so not much variation. Is that as much variation as ever occurs? Are there boxes with 29 or fewer Smarties, or 33 and more?
It would be great to have got more data. Unfortunately it was eaten.
*Other colourful sweets are available and could be used, of course!