What Do Statisticians Do?
The world is becoming quantitative. More and more professions, from the everyday to the exotic, depend on data and numerical reasoning.
Data are not just numbers, but numbers that carry information about a specific setting and need to be interpreted in that setting. With the growth in the use of data comes a growing demand for the services of statisticians, who are experts in the following:
- Producing trustworthy data
- Analyzing data to make their meaning clear
- Drawing practical conclusions from data
Examples of Statistics Careers
The search for improved medical treatments rests on careful experiments that compare promising new treatments with the current state of the art. Statisticians work with medical teams to design experiments and analyze the complex data they produce.
Studies of the environment require data on the abundance and location of plants and animals, on the spread of pollution from its sources, and on the possible effects of changes in human activities. The data are often incomplete or uncertain, but statisticians can help uncover their meaning.
The future of many industries and their employees depends on improvement in the quality of goods and services and the efficiency with which they are produced and delivered. Improvement should be based on data, rather than guesswork. More companies are installing elaborate systems to collect and act on data to better serve their customers.
How many people are unemployed this month? What do we export to China, and what do we import? Are rates of violent crime increasing or decreasing? The government wants data on issues such as these to guide policy, and government statistics agencies provide them by surveys of households and businesses.
Are consumer tastes in television programs changing? What are promising locations for a new retail outlet? Market researchers use both government data and their own surveys to answer questions such as these. Statisticians design the elaborate surveys that gather data for both public and private use.
The Nature of Statistics
Statistics provides the reasoning and methods for producing and understanding data. Statisticians are specialists, but statistics demands they be generalists, too.
Mathematics and Computers Are Involved ...
Statistics uses mathematics, but it is not abstract or isolated. Statisticians work with people from other professions to solve practical problems. Statistics uses modern computing to organize and analyze data, and statisticians command specialized tools. But the emphasis is on the data to be understood and the problem to be solved, rather than on computing for its own sake.
... But Understanding the Data Is Crucial
Statisticians must know more than statistics. A statistician who works in medicine or in a manufacturing plant or in market research must learn enough medicine or engineering or marketing to understand the data in their setting. Statisticians need the ability to work with other people, to listen, and to communicate.