Statistics

Numbers are all around us. From the thickness of the ozone layer to infant mortality rates, from the cost of beer to the chances of contracting AIDS, the world is permeated with quantity. Most of the quantitative information we have is incomplete, or an estimate, or an average, or the result of inexact measurement. This does not mean the information is useless. What it means is that to consider yourself well educated, you must be able to extract knowledge from numerical data that are subject to random error.

This is the goal of modern statistics. The word "statistics" has the same root as "state," and originally statistics referred to compilations of numbers about the state - what we would call census data. In recent times, this enterprise has been united with mathematical probability theory, producing a modern science of decision making under conditions of uncertainty. Statisticians do things as diverse as setting insurance rates, testing new drugs, estimating levels of air and water pollution, monitoring the quality of industrial products, and predicting the outcomes of national elections.

Mark Twain once said: "There are lies, damned lies, and statistics." It is true that in the hands of the unscrupulous or ill-informed, statistical methods can be seriously misleading - but only to a naive audience. Learn statistics or be vulnerable.


"I like to think of statistics as the science of learning from data...It presents exciting opportunities for those who work as professional statisticians. Statistics is essential for the proper running of government, central to decision making in industry, and a core component of modern educational curricula at all levels."


Jon Ketterring
ASA President, 1997