Just how are statistics useful? Facts and numbers are constantly being presented to us, whether it's in commercials, research studies, sports events or political debates. But why are statistics important and why should we learn statistics? Let's take a look at the meaning behind all the numbers.
What Is a Statistic?
A statistic is a piece of information that can be represented numerically. Basically, any data that can be counted can be a statistic. The field of statistics is a branch of applied mathematics that collects and interprets data, then uses probability theory to draw potential conclusions. In short, statistics is the math behind the data.
What Numbers Tell Us
Why not just let the data speak for itself? Studying statistics gives us a much better understanding of the meaning of the data. For example, if a research study finds that 20% of a local population has a disease, mathematicians can use statistics to find out if this is an abnormally high number by comparing it to averages in larger populations. Once the numbers have been crunched, researchers can the go back and look into the real-world factors that behind the numbers.
Meteorologists use statistics to predict the weather and create long-range forecasts. They use a database of temperatures, rainfall amounts and humidity in a specific region to understand how a storm might react when it arrives. As the amount of data meteorolgists have gets larger, the accuracy of their forecasts tends to improve.
If you like playing or watching sports, it's all about statistics. You probably know your favorite baseball player's batting average, but did you know that team managers use those numbers to decide where someone will hit in the lineup? Or that a pitcher's strike and hit count against a particular batter will determine when the pitcher gets pulled from the game? In professional football, a team of statisticians looks at historical data to help the coach decide what plays will be used in the next game.
Playing with Numbers
It is possible for the results to be manipulated by the way data is collected. If you read a study that says 80% of people say dragons are their favorite animal, you may be a little suspicious. If you later find out that this particular study polled a group of eight-year-old boys, you'd understand the results.
You can take sports and weather statistics as fact, because they're carefully recorded and calculated, and because they're based on widely reported events and facts. If you see statistics in the news or in political discussions, it's worth looking into the numbers to see if they're accurate.
Learning to calculate probability may seem difficult, but it actually involves some very basic math.