Statistics is the scientific application of mathematical principles to the collection, analysis, and presentation of numerical data. Statisticians apply their mathematical and statistical knowledge to the design of surveys and experiments; the collection, processing, and analysis of data; and the interpretation of the experiment and survey results. Opinion polls, statements of accuracy on scales and other measuring devices, and information about average earnings in an occupation are all usually the work of statisticians.
Statistical methods are applied by statisticians to a variety of subject areas, such as biology, economics, engineering, medicine, public health, psychology, marketing, education, and sports. Many economic, social, political, and military decisions cannot be made without statistical techniques, such as the design of experiments to gain government approval of a newly manufactured drug. Statistics might be needed to show whether the seemingly good results of a drug were likely because of the drug rather than just the effect of random variation in patient outcomes.
One technique that is especially useful to statisticians is sampling—obtaining information about a population of people or group of things by surveying a small portion of the total. For example, to determine the size of the audience for particular programs, television-rating services survey only a few thousand families, rather than all viewers. Statisticians decide where and how to gather the data, determine the type and size of the sample group, and develop the survey questionnaire or reporting form. They also prepare instructions for workers who will collect and tabulate the data. Finally, statisticians analyze, interpret, and summarize the data using computer software.
In business and industry, statisticians play an important role in quality control and in product development and improvement. In an automobile company, for example, statisticians might design experiments to determine the failure time of engines exposed to extreme weather conditions by running individual engines until failure and breakdown. Working for a pharmaceutical company, statisticians might develop and evaluate the results of clinical trials to determine the safety and effectiveness of new medications. At a computer software firm, statisticians might help construct new statistical software packages to analyze data more accurately and efficiently. In addition to product development and testing, some statisticians also are involved in deciding what products to manufacture, how much to charge for them, and to whom the products should be marketed. Statisticians also may manage assets and liabilities, determining the risks and returns of certain investments.
Use of Statistics
Descriptive statistics is the use of numbers to summarize or describe information which is known about some situation or collection of data. On the other hand, inferential statistics is the use of numbers to give numerical information and draw inferences about large groups than those from which the original raw data, the sample, were taken. For the sample from the population to have desirable mathematical properties it should be a random sample, a sequence of independent, identically distributed random variables.
A person who is employed to perform statistical analysis is known as a statisticians.
A master’s degree in statistics or mathematics usually is the minimum educational requirement for most statistician jobs. Research and academic positions usually require a Ph.D. in statistics. Beginning positions in industrial research often require a master’s degree combined with several years of experience.
In 2007, more than 200 universities offered a degree program in statistics, biostatistics, or mathematics. Many other schools also offered graduate-level courses in applied statistics for students majoring in biology, business, economics, education, engineering, psychology, and other fields. Acceptance into graduate statistics programs does not require an undergraduate degree in statistics, although good training in mathematics is essential. Many schools also offered degrees in mathematics, operations research, and other fields that include a sufficient number of courses in statistics to qualify graduates for some entry-level positions with Government agencies. Required subjects for statistics majors include differential and integral calculus, statistical methods, mathematical modeling, and probability theory. Additional recommended courses for undergraduates include linear algebra, design and analysis of experiments, applied multivariate analysis, and mathematical statistics.
Because computers are used extensively for statistical applications, a strong background in computer science is highly recommended. For positions involving quality and productivity improvement, training in engineering or physical science is useful. A background in biological, chemical, or health science is important for positions involving the preparation and testing of pharmaceutical or agricultural products. Courses in economics and business administration are helpful for many jobs in market research, business analysis, and forecasting. Advancements in technology have made a great impact on statistics. Statistical modeling continues to become quicker and easier because of increased computational power and new analytical methods or software. Continuing education is important for statisticians; they need to stay abreast emerging technologies to perform well.
Statisticians work for scientific, environmental, and agricultural agencies. Work may vary anywhere from figuring out the average level of pesticides in drinking water, to the number of endangered species living in a particular area, or the number of people afflicted with a particular disease. Statisticians are employed by nearly every government agency. Some government statisticians develop surveys that measure population growth, consumer prices, unemployment, or in national defense agencies, determining the accuracy of new weapons and the likely effectiveness of defense strategies.
Because statistical specialists are employed in so many work areas, specialists who use statistics often have different professional designations. For example, a person using statistical methods to analyze economic data may have the title econometrician, while statisticians in public health and medicine may hold titles such as biostatistician or biometrician.
Statisticians generally work regular hours in an office environment. Sometimes, they may work more hours to meet deadlines. Some statisticians travel to provide advice on research projects, supervise and set up surveys, or gather statistical data. While advanced communications devices such as e-mail and teleconferencing are making it easier for statisticians to work with clients in different areas, there still are situations that require the statistician to be present, such as during meetings or while gathering data.
- Statisticians Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2008-09 Edition.
- Naiman, Arnold; Rosenfeld, Robert; Zirkel, Gene (1983). Understanding Statistics (3rd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill. p. 2. ISBN 0-07-045863-4.
- Allen, Arnold O (1978). Probability, Statistics, and Queueing Theory with Computer Science Applications. New York: Academic Press. p. 273-274. ISBN 0-12-051050-2.
- Religious Statistics by the American Academy of Religion
- National Center for Educational Statistics Directory
- Databases and E-Resources at the U.S. Library of Congress