EMBA Faculty Feature: Ian McDonough, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Economics - EMBA 705 Applied Statistics

Picture of Ian McDonough

Pictured: Ian McDonough, Ph.D.

Oct. 5, 2019


Professor Ian McDonough – The Bard of Applied Statistics


There are many great quotes about statistics.  It’s said Mark Twain was fond of repeating the quote, there’s lies, more lies and then there’s statistics.” You can even find an array of jokes online about statistics and statisticians, and then there’s a plethora of TED Talks about making statistics user-friendly.


Although statistics can be challenging – some may even say dry, it’s really about story-telling.  And, at UNLV, Ian McDonough Ph.D., is the bard of applied statistics.


McDonough, an assistant professor of economics in the UNLV Lee Business School, brings his passion for teaching and statistics to his EMBA course: 705 Applied Statistics. The course aims to introduce EMBA students to the wonders and far-reaching implications of statistics by showcasing how they are used and misused, in real-work and real-life situations.


“While Twain is most famous for his ‘lies’ quote, he more precisely sums up the use of statistical analysis with another quote: ‘it ain’t what you don’t know that hurts you, it’s what you don’t know you don’t know’,” said McDonough.


It’s a lesson McDonough’s EMBA students take to heart. “The world can be a difficult place to navigate and a fundamental understanding in statistics makes it less so,” said McDonough.


Emphasizing that statistics have enormous repercussions in decision making, McDonough notes, “From the corporate boardroom to the media, statistics or quantitative evidence, is used everywhere to influence business strategies; persuade us stay at a resort; convince us to purchase a product; sway a hiring decision; or map out policies for feeding starving populations. Some of the claims are statistically sound, while others are not. If you want to navigate the world effectively, you need to have a handle on statistics and a capacity for recognizing when they can be deceptive.”


With humor and passion, McDonough, who taught his first EMBA cohort in 2018, gives his EMBA students both the skills and desire to incorporate applied statistics into their business and life decision-making processes. “It’s exciting to teach EMBA students. They’re engaged and often bring issues from their work to class, which we discuss as a group. The interaction is at a level that you wouldn’t get in a typical MBA classroom.”


Joining the UNLV faculty in 2014, McDonough’s recent research is focused on areas of food security and terrorism. His work has been published in numerous prestigious professional publications including:  “The Impact of Terrorism on Social Capital: Evidence from the 2015 Charlie Hebdo Paris Shooting” – Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics  and “Exploring the Dynamics of Racial Food Security Gaps in the United States” published in the Review of Economics of the Household. Additional published work includes “Criminal Incarceration, Statutory Bans on Food Assistance, and Food Security in Extremely Vulnerable Households” - Applied Economic Perspectives, and “Financial Capability and Food Security in Extremely Vulnerable Households” - American Journal of Agricultural Economics.


He is the recipient of various grants, including two that allow him to study the determinants of senior food insecurity and the impact of the breakfast-after-the-bell school meal program in Nevada.


Prior to joining UNLV, McDonough served as chief of staff and economist with Laffer Associates. Founded by renowned economist Dr. Arthur B. Laffer, the research firm is recognized for developing original works and proprietary models that analyze and forecast how economics affects the real world.


McDonough has been recognized by UNLV with numerous teaching and research awards including Lee Business School Teaching Faculty of the Year Award; Department of Economics Outstanding Teaching Award, and Department of Economics Outstanding Research Award.


McDonough jokes about the take-away from his EMBA Applied Statistics course. “I want students to dislike statistics. It’s not that I actually want them to dislike statistics. Rather, I want them to be obsessed, and even frustrated, with finding truth given their now deeper understanding of both the underlying empirics and the inherent value in properly analyzed data.”


“We’ll never know for sure what the future will bring, but we do know that we’ll have more and more access to data. Those individuals who can digest that information properly will make better choices, have more opportunities, and contribute real value to any organization.”