the field of statistics


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More probability density will be found the closer one gets to the expected (mean) value in a normal distribution. Statistics used in standardized testing assessment are shown. The scales include standard deviations, cumulative percentages, percentile equivalents, Z-scores, T-scores, standard nines, and percentages in standard nines.

Statistics is a mathematical science pertaining to the collection, analysis, interpretation or explanation, and presentation of data.[1] Statisticians improve the quality of data with the design of experiments and survey sampling. Statistics also provides tools for prediction and forecasting using data and statistical models. Statistics is applicable to a wide variety of academic disciplines, including natural and social sciences, government, and business.

Statistical methods can be used to summarize or describe a collection of data; this is called descriptive statistics. This is useful in research, when communicating the results of experiments. In addition, patterns in the data may be modeled in a way that accounts for randomness and uncertainty in the observations, and are then used to draw inferences about the process or population being studied; this is called inferential statistics. Inference is a vital element of scientific advance, since it provides a prediction (based in data) for where a theory logically leads. To further prove the guiding theory, these predictions are tested as well, as part of the scientific method. If the inference holds true, then the descriptive statistics of the new data increase the soundness of that hypothesis. Descriptive statistics and inferential statistics (a.k.a., predictive statistics) together comprise applied statistics.[2]

There is also a discipline called mathematical statistics, which is concerned with the theoretical basis of the subject.

The word statistics can either be singular or plural.[3] In its singular form, statistics refers to the mathematical science discussed in this article. In its plural form, statistics is the plural of the word statistic, which refers to a quantity (such as a mean) calculated from a set of data.[4]


Some scholars pinpoint the origin of statistics to 1662, with the publication of Natural and Political Observations upon the Bills of Mortality by John Graunt.[5] Early applications of statistical thinking revolved around the needs of states to base policy on demographic and economic data, hence its stat- etymology. The scope of the discipline of statistics broadened in the early 19th century to include the collection and analysis of data in general. Today, statistics is widely employed in government, business, and the natural and social sciences.

Because of its empirical roots and its focus on applications, statistics is usually considered to be a distinct mathematical science rather than a branch of mathematics.[6][7] Its mathematical foundations were laid in the 17th century with the development of probability theory by Blaise Pascal and Pierre de Fermat. Probability theory arose from the study of games of chance. The method of least squares was first described by Carl Friedrich Gauss around 1794. The use of modern computers has expedited large-scale statistical computation, and has also made possible new methods that are impractical to perform manually.


In applying statistics to a scientific, industrial, or societal problem, it is necessary to begin with a population or process to be studied. Populations can be diverse topics such as "all persons living in a country" or "every atom composing a crystal". A population can also be composed of observations of a process at various times, with the data from each observation serving as a different member of the overall group. Data collected about this kind of "population" constitutes what is called a time series.

For practical reasons, a chosen subset of the population called a sample is studied as opposed to compiling data about the entire group. Once a sample that is representative of the population is determined, data is collected for the sample members in an observational or experimental setting. This data can then be subjected to statistical analysis, serving two related purposes: description and inference.

Descriptive statistics summarize the population data by describing what was observed in the sample numerically or graphically. Numerical descriptors include mean and standard deviation for continuous data types (like heights or weights), while frequency and percentage are more useful in terms of describing categorical data (like race).

Inferential statistics uses patterns in the sample data to draw inferences about the population represented, accounting for randomness. These inferences may take the form of: answering yes/no questions about the data (hypothesis testing) estimating numerical characteristics of the data (estimation), describing associations within the data (correlation), modeling relationships within the data (regression), extrapolation, interpolation, or other modeling techniques like ANOVA, time series, and data mining.

"... it is only the manipulation of uncertainty that interests us. We are not concerned with the matter that is uncertain. Thus we do not study the mechanism of rain; only whether it will rain."

Dennis Lindley, "The Philosophy of Statistics", The Statistician (2000).

The concept of correlation is particularly noteworthy for the potential confusion it can cause. Statistical analysis of a data set often reveals that two variables (properties) of the population under consideration tend to vary together, as if they are connected. For example, a study of annual income that also looks at age of death might find that poor people tend to have shorter lives than affluent people. The two variables are said to be correlated; however, they may or may not be the cause of one another. The correlation phenomena could be caused by a third, previously unconsidered phenomenon, called a lurking variable or confounding variable. For this reason, there is no way to immediately infer the existence of a causal relationship between the two variables. (See Correlation does not imply causation.)

For a sample to be used as a guide to an entire population, it is important that it is truly a representative of that overall population. Representative sampling assured, inferences and conclusions can be safely extended from the sample to the population as a whole. A major problem lies in determining the extent to which sample chosen is actually representative. Statistics offers methods to estimate and correct for any random trending within the sample and data collection procedures. There are also methods for designing experiments that can lessen these issues at the outset of a study, strengthening its capability to discern truths about the population. Statisticians describe stronger methods as more "robust".(See experimental design.)

The fundamental mathematical concept employed in understanding potential randomness is probability. Mathematical statistics (also called statistical theory) is the branch of applied mathematics that uses probability theory and analysis to examine the theoretical basis of statistics. The use of any statistical method is valid only when the system or population under consideration satisfies the basic mathematical assumptions of the method.

Misuse of statistics can produce subtle, but serious errors in description and interpretation subtle in the sense that even experienced professionals make such errors, and serious in the sense that they can lead to devastating decision errors. For instance, social policy, medical practice, and the reliability of structures like bridges all rely on the proper use of statistics. Even when statistics are correctly applied, the results can be difficult to interpret for those lacking expertise. The statistical significance of a trend in the data - which measures the extent to which a trend could be caused by random variation in the sample - may or may not agree with an intuitive sense of its significance. The set of basic statistical skills (and skepticism) that people need to deal with information in their everyday lives properly is referred to as statistical literacy.

Statistical methods

Experimental and observational studies

A common goal for a statistical research project is to investigate causality, and in particular to draw a conclusion on the effect of changes in the values of predictors or independent variables on dependent variables or response. There are two major types of causal statistical studies: experimental studies and observational studies. In both types of studies, the effect of differences of an independent variable (or variables) on the behavior of the dependent variable are observed. The difference between the two types lies in how the study is actually conducted. Each can be very effective.

An experimental study involves taking measurements of the system under study, manipulating the system, and then taking additional measurements using the same procedure to determine if the manipulation has modified the values of the measurements. In contrast, an observational study does not involve experimental manipulation. Instead, data are gathered and correlations between predictors and response are investigated.

An example of an experimental study is the famous Hawthorne study, which attempted to test changes to the working environment at the Hawthorne plant of the Western Electric Company. The researchers were interested in determining whether increased illumination would increase the productivity of the assembly line workers. The researchers first measured the productivity in the plant, then modified the illumination in an area of the plant and checked if the changes in illumination affected productivity. It turned out that productivity indeed improved (under the experimental conditions). However, the study is heavily criticized today for errors in experimental procedures, specifically for the lack of a control group and blindness. The Hawthorne effect refers to finding that an outcome (in this case, worker productivity) changed due to observation itself. Those in the Hawthorne study became more productive not because the lighting was changed but because they were being observed.[citation needed]

An example of an observational study is one that explores the correlation between smoking and lung cancer. This type of study typically uses a survey to collect observations about the area of interest and then performs statistical analysis. In this case, the researchers would collect observations of both smokers and non-smokers, perhaps through a case-control study, and then look for the number of cases of lung cancer in each group.

The basic steps of an experiment are:

  1. Planning the research, including determining information sources, research subject selection, and ethical considerations for the proposed research and method.
  2. Design of experiments, concentrating on the system model and the interaction of independent and dependent variables.
  3. Summarizing a collection of observations to feature their commonality by suppressing details. (Descriptive statistics)
  4. Reaching consensus about what the observations tell about the world being observed. (Statistical inference)
  5. Documenting / presenting the results of the study.

Levels of measurement

Main article: levels of measurement

There are four types of measurements or levels of measurement or measurement scales used in statistics:

  • nominal,
  • ordinal,
  • interval, and
  • ratio.

They have different degrees of usefulness in statistical research. Ratio measurements have both a zero value defined and the distances between different measurements defined; they provide the greatest flexibility in statistical methods that can be used for analyzing the data. Interval measurements have meaningful distances between measurements defined, but have no meaningful zero value defined (as in the case with IQ measurements or with temperature measurements in Fahrenheit). Ordinal measurements have imprecise differences between consecutive values, but have a meaningful order to those values. Nominal measurements have no meaningful rank order among values.

Since variables conforming only to nominal or ordinal measurements cannot be reasonably measured numerically, sometimes they are called together as categorical variables, whereas ratio and interval measurements are grouped together as quantitative or continuous variables due to their numerical nature.

Some well-known statistical tests and procedures are:

  • Analysis of variance (ANOVA)
  • Chi-square test
  • Correlation
  • Factor analysis
  • Mann-Whitney U
  • Mean square weighted deviation (MSWD)
  • Pearson product-moment correlation coefficient
  • Regression analysis
  • Spearman's rank correlation coefficient
  • Student's t-test
  • Time series analysis
  • Specialized disciplines

    Main article: List of fields of application of statistics

    Some fields of inquiry use applied statistics so extensively that they have specialized terminology. These disciplines include:

    • Actuarial science
    • Applied information economics
    • Biostatistics
    • Bootstrap & Jackknife Resampling
    • Business statistics
    • Chemometrics (for analysis of data from chemistry)
    • Data analysis
    • Data mining (applying statistics and pattern recognition to discover knowledge from data)
    • Demodoxalogy
    • Demography
    • Economic statistics (Econometrics)
    • Energy statistics
    • Engineering statistics
    • Epidemiology
    • Geography and Geographic Information Systems, specifically in Spatial analysis
    • Image processing
    • Psychological statistics
    • Quality
    • Reliability engineering
    • Social statistics
    • Statistical classification
    • Statistical literacy
    • Statistical modeling
    • Statistical surveys
    • Structured data analysis (statistics)
    • Survival analysis
    • Statistics in various sports, particularly baseball and cricket

    Statistics form a key basis tool in business and manufacturing as well. It is used to understand measurement systems variability, control processes (as in statistical process control or SPC), for summarizing data, and to make data-driven decisions. In these roles, it is a key tool, and perhaps the only reliable tool.

    Statistical computing

    gretl, an example of an open source statistical package

    Main article: statistical computing

    The rapid and sustained increases in computing power starting from the second half of the 20th century have had a substantial impact on the practice of statistical science. Early statistical models were almost always from the class of linear models, but powerful computers, coupled with suitable numerical algorithms, caused an increased interest in nonlinear models (such as neural networks) as well as the creation of new types, such as generalized linear models and multilevel models.

    Increased computing power has also led to the growing popularity of computationally-intensive methods based on resampling, such as permutation tests and the bootstrap, while techniques such as Gibbs sampling have made use of Bayesian models more feasible. The computer revolution has implications for the future of statistics with new emphasis on "experimental" and "empirical" statistics. A large number of both general and special purpose statistical software are now available.


    Main article: Misuse of statistics

    There is a general perception that statistical knowledge is all-too-frequently intentionally misused by finding ways to interpret only the data that are favorable to the presenter. A famous saying attributed to Benjamin Disraeli is, "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics." Harvard President Lawrence Lowell wrote in 1909 that statistics, " veal pies, are good if you know the person that made them, and are sure of the ingredients."

    If various studies appear to contradict one another, then the public may come to distrust such studies. For example, one study may suggest that a given diet or activity raises blood pressure, while another may suggest that it lowers blood pressure. The discrepancy can arise from subtle variations in experimental design, such as differences in the patient groups or research protocols, which are not easily understood by the non-expert. (Media reports usually omit this vital contextual information entirely, because of its complexity.)

    By choosing (or rejecting, or modifying) a certain sample, results can be manipulated. Such manipulations need not be malicious or devious; they can arise from unintentional biases of the researcher. The graphs used to summarize data can also be misleading.

    Deeper criticisms come from the fact that the hypothesis testing approach, widely used and in many cases required by law or regulation, forces one hypothesis (the null hypothesis) to be "favored," and can also seem to exaggerate the importance of minor differences in large studies. A difference that is highly statistically significant can still be of no practical significance. (See criticism of hypothesis testing and controversy over the null hypothesis.)

    One response is by giving a greater emphasis on the p-value than simply reporting whether a hypothesis is rejected at the given level of significance. The p-value, however, does not indicate the size of the effect. Another increasingly common approach is to report confidence intervals. Although these are produced from the same calculations as those of hypothesis tests or p-values, they describe both the size of the effect and the uncertainty surrounding it.

    Statistics applied to mathematics or the arts

    Traditionally, statistics was concerned with drawing inferences using a semi-standardized methodology that was "required learning" in most sciences. This has changed with use of statistics in non-inferential contexts. What was once considered a dry subject, taken in many fields as a degree-requirement, is now viewed enthusiastically. Initially derided by some mathematical purists, it is now considered essential methodology in certain areas.

    • In number theory, scatter plots of data generated by a distribution function may be transformed with familiar tools used in statistics to reveal underlying patterns, which may then lead to hypotheses.
    • Methods of statistics including predictive methods in forecasting, are combined with chaos theory and fractal geometry to create video works that are considered to have great beauty.
    • The process art of Jackson Pollock relied on artistic experiments whereby underlying distributions in nature were artistically revealed. With the advent of computers, methods of statistics were applied to formalize such
      distribution driven natural processes, in order to make and analyze moving video art.
    • Methods of statistics may be used predicatively in performance art, as in a card trick based on a Markov process that only works some of the time, the occasion of which can be predicted using statistical methodology.
    • Statistics is used to predicatively create art, as in applications of statistical mechanics with the statistical or stochastic music invented by Iannis Xenakis, where the music is performance-specific. Though this type of artistry
      does not always come out as expected, it does behave within a range predictable using statistics.

    See also

    Main article: Outline of statistics

    • Glossary of probability and statistics
    • Index of statistics articles
    • List of academic statistical associations
    • List of national and international statistical services
    • List of important publications in statistics
    • List of statistical packages (software)
    • Notation in probability and statistics
    • Forecasting
    • Foundations of statistics
    • Multivariate statistics
    • Official statistics
    • Regression analysis
    • Statistical consultants
    • Statistician, List of statisticians
    • Structural equation modeling

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