Are there benefits to gaining a strong statistical background?

There are many people in the world today who mistrust statistics. They argue that statistics can be hard to understand and are often used to mislead the public. Such mistrust has its roots in the overuse of statistics by advertisers and the media, where statistical values are often presented misleadingly or grossly out of context. Gaining a good understanding of statistical theory can help us differentiate between strong and weak statistical evidence which could help us to make day to day decisions (such as which product to buy or which company to invest in).

A strong background in statistics is not only beneficial  to our lives in general  but it is also vital to scientific research. Statistics allow scientists to interpret large quantities of data with relative ease. Correlations and interactions between variables cannot be identified by looking at the raw data alone; but the appropriate and correctly interpreted statistical test can find such relationships and examine whether or not they are significant. A comprehensive statistical examination of data can also reveal patterns or anomalies the investigator may not have anticipated, providing new avenues for research in that area; or it could bring together data from several congruent investigations to look for an overall, definitive pattern.

Nowadays, with the advances in statistical tools such as SPSS, there is very little excuse for weak statistics in an investigation; any research, no matter how groundbreaking or carefully conducted is unlikely to get any recognition unless it contains a strong statistical analysis of the data. In other words, gaining a strong background in statistics will benefit you in day to day life and in your scientific research. If applied properly it allows you to: analyse your data, strengthen your argument, identify patterns, find points for future research and (hopefully!) get your research accepted.

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5 Comments

  1. I like the emphasis you place on results. I agree 100% that without stats, results won’t be taken seriously and good quality research could be ignored simply because the researcher didnt have a good grasp of statistics. The introduction, method and abstract are not important, its not what you did or why its the results that matter most! The only criticism i could have for this blog is that you could have put in an example of the media misleading the public with statistics, for example- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7X5ESgu21qY
    They only used 24 women to test their product on!

    Apart from no media example this was a good blog 🙂

    Reply
  2. I agree with you that statistics helps us to make an appropriate decisions in our day to day life. Scientific research is important to the world and you are right about the fact that statistics is important in scientific research lab. You have given a good point that without a strong statistical analyse of data a research will not stand.
    Your blog was simple to understand and good. 🙂

    Reply
  3. I agree that there is very little excuse for weak statistics with the use of SPSS, however, as Erin showed us a prime example of on Monday, results can be manipulated so that the statistics say what the researcher wants to prove. I might add that that one example shook my faith far more than consumer statistics telling me that they know what my cat prefers. (incidentally, my cats are the 2 out of 10 who prefer fresh mouse to whiskas)

    Reply
  4. I agree that statistics are very important, but maybe they have become a little too important. I think that maybe people have become SO focused on getting good statistics, and presenting them right that they may have lost sight of the bigger picture. For example, what if someone created a new cure for cancer, however the problem is it only works on lets say 10% of the people. This may well end in not significant results, as with the majority of people it didn’t work. However to disregard it as not significant is denying 10% of people with cancer a cure. So whilst i agree statistics are important, it is also extremely important to not lose sight of why we use statistics.

    Reply
  5. I liked your blog and I agree with what you have said. There is no excuse for weak statistics yet there is probably more now then there has ever been. While some are practically harmless (for example, advertisers making over exaggerated claims on how wonderful their product is) others can be outright dangerous like in the case of Andrew Wakefield who published research containing bad statistics on a supposed link of autism from the MMR vaccination. This case of bad statistics caused many parents to stop vaccinating their children and put these children at risk of catching a serious infection.

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