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Why do I need to learn Statistics?

By Edited Dec 21, 2013 0 2

So what exactly is Statistics?

In a nutshell, statistics is the study of uncertainty.  We never know what is going to happen in the future, so we must make a prediction.  Some people may think that pulling a scenario "out of a hat" may work fine, but that is not very realistic.  We need to have methods that will help us learn what to expect and to deal with the future.  

Many of us in the morning want to know how to dress to be comfortable going to work or school, or to the local amusement park.  So, what we do is open our newspaper, or fire up our computers to check the web for what the weather is.  The weather forecast may seem simple to us, but in reality, it is not.  Forecasters go through extensive training that has everything to do with statistics.  They look at hundreds of items of information, and then decide what is important and then create a weather forecast using statistics.  Now you may feel that the weather forecaster is wrong all the time, but remember they are do more than deciding whether it will rain today or not.  Instead they are using statistics to determine when it is most likely it will rain and how severe the storm will be as well as many other factors.   This is just one example of an application using statistics.  There are probably millions of them.  

To start, we need to collect data.  Data is basically information that we collect.  For example, we may go to a group of people and collect their names, addresses, ages, gender, marital status, income, number of kids, and telephone number.  Each of these items would be called a variable.  You may remember from algebra that a variable can represent a different values.  For example, we may let X=# of kids, and Y=#income.   X could hold the values of 0, 1, 2, 3, ...and so on.  Well,  it would be safe to say that X is not 1,000.  That would be a lot of kids.  This is one of the sanity checks that is applied to data before analyzing it with statistics.  To get back to the main point, we would look at each of these variables to see if they are important enough to include in a model that we can build to try to predict the future.  

How can Statistics be FUN?

Statistics is a branch of mathematics, and many people hate taking math courses in school.  We've all have those teachers that would make you go up to the chalkboard or whiteboard to show your work.  While this is an excellent technique to help us learn, we've all experienced a teacher who basically ridicules us for not knowing how to do the problem.  This is embarrassing, and unfortunate.  Math is a lot of fun.  Yes, it is very challenging, but very rewarding when we get the answer.    Don't let these bad experiences give you a bad taste for math.  In reality, elementary statistics is easier to learn and apply than a lot of the other branches of math.

I can remember doing problems in my high school/college algebra and calculus classes and thinking, these techniques are cool, but where in the world are these equations coming from?  It took a while to realize, but a lot them come from statistics.  Yes, some of them are created as easy algebra problems to solve, but  a lot of the equations that you see in the math problems are from a statistical model.

So you might ask, "what is so fun about statistics"?  The answer is that they will help you understand what you are passionate about a lot deeper.  Many of us are sports fanatics.  Sports are enjoyed a lot more when we look at different stats.  There is an actual philosophy in baseball created by Bill James that uses stats very extensively.  This approach is called sabermetrics. Traditional baseball managers have "went with their gut," while there is now a huge movement in baseball to use sabermetrics.  These players/managers believe in statistics exclusively.   There is so much that we can do!!

This is an introduction to statistics.  I will try to define different statistical concepts through different articles in the future.

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Comments

Jul 21, 2011 11:05am
nicohohman
I took stats in high school and college and although I don't remember any of the formulas, I do know to always take a look at every survey result with a grain of salt.
Jul 21, 2011 3:27pm
cubfandoug49er
I agree..even having a background in statistics, I tend to forget a lot of the formulas that I don't use on a regular basis. But I definitely know how to shoot down some of those ridiculous "studies" that they use in advertising.
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