Data analysis and presentation
Scope and purpose
Scope and purpose
Data analysis is the process of developing answers to questions through the examination and interpretation of data. The basic steps in the analytic process consist of identifying issues, determining the availability of suitable data, deciding on which methods are appropriate for answering the questions of interest, applying the methods and evaluating, summarizing and communicating the results.
Analytical results underscore the usefulness of data sources by shedding light on relevant issues. Some Statistics Canada programs depend on analytical output as a major data product because, for confidentiality reasons, it is not possible to release the microdata to the public. Data analysis also plays a key role in data quality assessment by pointing to data quality problems in a given survey. Analysis can thus influence future improvements to the survey process.
Data analysis is essential for understanding results from surveys, administrative sources and pilot studies; for providing information on data gaps; for designing and redesigning surveys; for planning new statistical activities; and for formulating quality objectives.
Results of data analysis are often published or summarized in official Statistics Canada releases.
A statistical agency is concerned with the relevance and usefulness to users of the information contained in its data. Analysis is the principal tool for obtaining information from the data.
Data from a survey can be used for descriptive or analytic studies. Descriptive studies are directed at the estimation of summary measures of a target population, for example, the average profits of owner-operated businesses in 2005 or the proportion of 2007 high school graduates who went on to higher education in the next twelve months. Analytical studies may be used to explain the behaviour of and relationships among characteristics; for example, a study of risk factors for obesity in children would be analytic.
To be effective, the analyst needs to understand the relevant issues both current and those likely to emerge in the future and how to present the results to the audience. The study of background information allows the analyst to choose suitable data sources and appropriate statistical methods. Any conclusions presented in an analysis, including those that can impact public policy, must be supported by the data being analyzed.
Prior to conducting an analytical study the following questions should be addressed:
Objectives. What are the objectives of this analysis? What issue am I addressing? What question(s) will I answer?
Justification. Why is this issue interesting? How will these answers contribute to existing knowledge? How is this study relevant?
Data. What data am I using? Why it is the best source for this analysis? Are there any limitations?
Analytical methods. What statistical techniques are appropriate? Will they satisfy the objectives?
Audience. Who is interested in this issue and why?
Ensure that the data are appropriate for the analysis to be carried out. This requires investigation of a wide range of details such as whether the target population of the data source is sufficiently related to the target population of the analysis, whether the source variables and their concepts and definitions are relevant to the study, whether the longitudinal or cross-sectional nature of the data source is appropriate for the analysis, whether the sample size in the study domain is sufficient to obtain meaningful results and whether the quality of the data, as outlined in the survey documentation or assessed through analysis is sufficient.
If more than one data source is being used for the analysis, investigate whether the sources are consistent and how they may be appropriately integrated into the analysis.
Appropriate methods and tools
Choose an analytical approach that is appropriate for the question being investigated and the data to be analyzed.
When analyzing data from a probability sample, analytical methods that ignore the survey design can be appropriate, provided that sufficient model conditions for analysis are met. (See Binder and Roberts, 2003.) However, methods that incorporate the sample design information will generally be effective even when some aspects of the model are incorrectly specified.
Assess whether the survey design information can be incorporated into the analysis and if so how this should be done such as using design-based methods. See Binder and Roberts (2009) and Thompson (1997) for discussion of approaches to inferences on data from a probability sample.
See Chambers and Skinner (2003), Korn and Graubard (1999), Lehtonen and Pahkinen (1995), Lohr (1999), and Skinner, Holt and Smith (1989) for a number of examples illustrating design-based analytical methods.
For a design-based analysis consult the survey documentation about the recommended approach for variance estimation for the survey. If the data from more than one survey are included in the same analysis, determine whether or not the different samples were independently selected and how this would impact the appropriate approach to variance estimation.
The data files for probability surveys frequently contain more than one weight variable, particularly if the survey is longitudinal or if it has both cross-sectional and longitudinal purposes. Consult the survey documentation and survey experts if it is not obvious as to which might be the best weight to be used in any particular design-based analysis.
When analyzing data from a probability survey, there may be insufficient design information available to carry out analyses using a full design-based approach. Assess the alternatives.
Consult with experts on the subject matter, on the data source and on the statistical methods if any of these is unfamiliar to you.
Having determined the appropriate analytical method for the data, investigate the software choices that are available to apply the method. If analyzing data from a probability sample by design-based methods, use software specifically for survey data since standard analytical software packages that can produce weighted point estimates do not correctly calculate variances for survey-weighted estimates.
It is advisable to use commercial software, if suitable, for implementing the chosen analyses, since these software packages have usually undergone more testing than non-commercial software.
Determine whether it is necessary to reformat your data in order to use the selected software.
Include a variety of diagnostics among your analytical methods if you are fitting any models to your data.
- Data sources vary widely with respect to missing data. At one extreme, there are data sources which seem complete - where any missing units have been accounted for through a weight variable with a nonresponse component and all missing items on responding units have been filled in by imputed values. At the other extreme, there are data sources where no processing has been done with respect to missing data. The work required by the analyst to handle missing data can thus vary widely. It should be noted that the handling of missing data in analysis is an ongoing topic of research.
Refer to the documentation about the data source to determine the degree and types of missing data and the processing of missing data that has been performed. This information will be a starting point for what further work may be required.
Consider how unit and/or item nonresponse could be handled in the analysis, taking into consideration the degree and types of missing data in the data sources being used.
Consider whether imputed values should be included in the analysis and if so, how they should be handled. If imputed values are not used, consideration must be given to what other methods may be used to properly account for the effect of nonresponse in the analysis.
If the analysis includes modelling, it could be appropriate to include some aspects of nonresponse in the analytical model.
Report any caveats about how the approaches used to handle missing data could have impact on results
Interpretation of results
Since most analyses are based on observational studies rather than on the results of a controlled experiment, avoid drawing conclusions concerning causality.
When studying changes over time, beware of focusing on short-term trends without inspecting them in light of medium-and long-term trends. Frequently, short-term trends are merely minor fluctuations around a more important medium- and/or long-term trend.
Where possible, avoid arbitrary time reference points. Instead, use meaningful points of reference, such as the last major turning point for economic data, generation-to-generation differences for demographic statistics, and legislative changes for social statistics.
Presentation of results
Focus the article on the important variables and topics. Trying to be too comprehensive will often interfere with a strong story line.
Arrange ideas in a logical order and in order of relevance or importance. Use headings, subheadings and sidebars to strengthen the organization of the article.
Keep the language as simple as the subject permits. Depending on the targeted audience for the article, some loss of precision may sometimes be an acceptable trade-off for more readable text.
Use graphs in addition to text and tables to communicate the message. Use headings that capture the meaning (e.g. "Women's earnings still trail men's") in preference to traditional chart titles (e.g."Income by age and sex"). Always help readers understand the information in the tables and charts by discussing it in the text.
When tables are used, take care that the overall format contributes to the clarity of the data in the tables and prevents misinterpretation. This includes spacing; the wording, placement and appearance of titles; row and column headings and other labeling.
Explain rounding practices or procedures. In the presentation of rounded data, do not use more significant digits than are consistent with the accuracy of the data.
Satisfy any confidentiality requirements (e.g. minimum cell sizes) imposed by the surveys or administrative sources whose data are being analysed.
Include information about the data sources used and any shortcomings in the data that may have affected the analysis. Either have a section in the paper about the data or a reference to where the reader can get the details.
Include information about the analytical methods and tools used. Either have a section on methods or a reference to where the reader can get the details.
Include information regarding the quality of the results. Standard errors, confidence intervals and/or coefficients of variation provide the reader important information about data quality. The choice of indicator may vary depending on where the article is published.
Ensure that all references are accurate, consistent and are referenced in the text.
Check for errors in the article. Check details such as the consistency of figures used in the text, tables and charts, the accuracy of external data, and simple arithmetic.
Ensure that the intentions stated in the introduction are fulfilled by the rest of the article. Make sure that the conclusions are consistent with the evidence.
Have the article reviewed by others for relevance, accuracy and comprehensibility, regardless of where it is to be disseminated. As a good practice, ask someone from the data providing division to review how the data were used. If the article is to be disseminated outside of Statistics Canada, it must undergo institutional and peer review as specified in the Policy on the Review of Information Products (Statistics Canada, 2003).
If the article is to be disseminated in a Statistics Canada publication make sure that it complies with the current Statistics Canada Publishing Standards. These standards affect graphs, tables and style, among other things.
As a good practice, consider presenting the results to peers prior to finalizing the text. This is another kind of peer review that can help improve the article. Always do a dry run of presentations involving external audiences.
Refer to available documents that could provide further guidance for improvement of your article, such as Guidelines on Writing Analytical Articles (Statistics Canada 2008 ) and the Style Guide (Statistics Canada 2004)
Main quality elements: relevance, interpretability, accuracy, accessibility
An analytical product is relevant if there is an audience who is (or will be) interested in the results of the study.
For the interpretability of an analytical article to be high, the style of writing must suit the intended audience. As well, sufficient details must be provided that another person, if allowed access to the data, could replicate the results.
For an analytical product to be accurate, appropriate methods and tools need to be used to produce the results.
For an analytical product to be accessible, it must be available to people for whom the research results would be useful.
Binder, D.A. and G.R. Roberts. 2003. "Design-based methods for estimating model parameters." In Analysis of Survey Data. R.L. Chambers and C.J. Skinner (eds.) Chichester. Wiley. p. 29-48.
Binder, D.A. and G. Roberts. 2009. "Design and Model Based Inference for Model Parameters." In Handbook of Statistics 29B: Sample Surveys: Inference and Analysis. Pfeffermann, D. and Rao, C.R. (eds.) Vol. 29B. Chapter 24. Amsterdam.Elsevier. 666 p.
Chambers, R.L. and C.J. Skinner (eds.) 2003. Analysis of Survey Data. Chichester. Wiley. 398 p.
Korn, E.L. and B.I. Graubard. 1999. Analysis of Health Surveys. New York. Wiley. 408 p.
Lehtonen, R. and E.J. Pahkinen. 2004. Practical Methods for Design and Analysis of Complex Surveys.Second edition. Chichester. Wiley.
Lohr, S.L. 1999. Sampling: Design and Analysis. Duxbury Press. 512 p.
Skinner, C.K., D.Holt and T.M.F. Smith. 1989. Analysis of Complex Surveys. Chichester. Wiley. 328 p.
Thompson, M.E. 1997. Theory of Sample Surveys. London. Chapman and Hall. 312 p.
Statistics Canada. 2003. "Policy on the Review of Information Products." Statistics Canada Policy Manual. Section 2.5. Last updated March 4, 2009.
Statistics Canada. 2004. Style Guide. Last updated October 6, 2004.
Statistics Canada. 2008. Guidelines on Writing Analytical Articles. Last updated September 16, 2008.
For other uses, see Statistics (disambiguation).
Statistics is a branch of mathematics dealing with the collection, analysis, interpretation, presentation, and organization of data. In applying statistics to, for example, a scientific, industrial, or social problem, it is conventional to begin with a statistical population or a statistical model process to be studied. Populations can be diverse topics such as "all people living in a country" or "every atom composing a crystal". Statistics deals with all aspects of data including the planning of data collection in terms of the design of surveys and experiments. See glossary of probability and statistics.
When census data cannot be collected, statisticians collect data by developing specific experiment designs and survey samples. Representative sampling assures that inferences and conclusions can reasonably extend from the sample to the population as a whole. An experimental study involves taking measurements of the system under study, manipulating the system, and then taking additional measurements using the same procedure to determine if the manipulation has modified the values of the measurements. In contrast, an observational study does not involve experimental manipulation.
Two main statistical methods are used in data analysis: descriptive statistics, which summarize data from a sample using indexes such as the mean or standard deviation, and inferential statistics, which draw conclusions from data that are subject to random variation (e.g., observational errors, sampling variation). Descriptive statistics are most often concerned with two sets of properties of a distribution (sample or population): central tendency (or location) seeks to characterize the distribution's central or typical value, while dispersion (or variability) characterizes the extent to which members of the distribution depart from its center and each other. Inferences on mathematical statistics are made under the framework of probability theory, which deals with the analysis of random phenomena.
A standard statistical procedure involves the test of the relationship between two statistical data sets, or a data set and synthetic data drawn from idealized model. A hypothesis is proposed for the statistical relationship between the two data sets, and this is compared as an alternative to an idealized null hypothesis of no relationship between two data sets. Rejecting or disproving the null hypothesis is done using statistical tests that quantify the sense in which the null can be proven false, given the data that are used in the test. Working from a null hypothesis, two basic forms of error are recognized: Type I errors (null hypothesis is falsely rejected giving a "false positive") and Type II errors (null hypothesis fails to be rejected and an actual difference between populations is missed giving a "false negative"). Multiple problems have come to be associated with this framework: ranging from obtaining a sufficient sample size to specifying an adequate null hypothesis.
Measurement processes that generate statistical data are also subject to error. Many of these errors are classified as random (noise) or systematic (bias), but other types of errors (e.g., blunder, such as when an analyst reports incorrect units) can also be important. The presence of missing data or censoring may result in biased estimates and specific techniques have been developed to address these problems.
Statistics can be said to have begun in ancient civilization, going back at least to the 5th century BC, but it was not until the 18th century that it started to draw more heavily from calculus and probability theory. In more recent years statistics has relied more on statistical software to produce tests such as descriptive analysis
Some definitions are:
- Merriam-Webster dictionary defines statistics as "a branch of mathematics dealing with the collection, analysis, interpretation, and presentation of masses of numerical data."
- Statistician Sir Arthur Lyon Bowley defines statistics as "Numerical statements of facts in any department of inquiry placed in relation to each other."
Statistics is a mathematical body of science that pertains to the collection, analysis, interpretation or explanation, and presentation of data, or as a branch of mathematics. Some consider statistics to be a distinct mathematical science rather than a branch of mathematics. While many scientific investigations make use of data, statistics is concerned with the use of data in the context of uncertainty and decision making in the face of uncertainty.
Main article: Mathematical statistics
Mathematical statistics is the application of mathematics to statistics. Mathematical techniques used for this include mathematical analysis, linear algebra, stochastic analysis, differential equations, and measure-theoretic probability theory.
In applying statistics to a problem, it is common practice to start with a population or process to be studied. Populations can be diverse topics such as "all persons living in a country" or "every atom composing a crystal".
Ideally, statisticians compile data about the entire population (an operation called census). This may be organized by governmental statistical institutes. Descriptive statistics can be used to summarize the population data. Numerical descriptors include mean and standard deviation for continuous data types (like income), while frequency and percentage are more useful in terms of describing categorical data (like race).
When a census is not feasible, a chosen subset of the population called a sample is studied. Once a sample that is representative of the population is determined, data is collected for the sample members in an observational or experimental setting. Again, descriptive statistics can be used to summarize the sample data. However, the drawing of the sample has been subject to an element of randomness, hence the established numerical descriptors from the sample are also due to uncertainty. To still draw meaningful conclusions about the entire population, inferential statistics is needed. It uses patterns in the sample data to draw inferences about the population represented, accounting for randomness. These inferences may take the form of: answering yes/no questions about the data (hypothesis testing), estimating numerical characteristics of the data (estimation), describing associations within the data (correlation) and modeling relationships within the data (for example, using regression analysis). Inference can extend to forecasting, prediction and estimation of unobserved values either in or associated with the population being studied; it can include extrapolation and interpolation of time series or spatial data, and can also include data mining.
When full census data cannot be collected, statisticians collect sample data by developing specific experiment designs and survey samples. Statistics itself also provides tools for prediction and forecasting through statistical models.
To use a sample as a guide to an entire population, it is important that it truly represents the overall population. Representative sampling assures that inferences and conclusions can safely extend from the sample to the population as a whole. A major problem lies in determining the extent that the sample chosen is actually representative. Statistics offers methods to estimate and correct for any bias within the sample and data collection procedures. There are also methods of experimental design for experiments that can lessen these issues at the outset of a study, strengthening its capability to discern truths about the population.
Sampling theory is part of the mathematical discipline of probability theory. Probability is used in mathematical statistics to study the sampling distributions of sample statistics and, more generally, the properties of statistical procedures. The use of any statistical method is valid when the system or population under consideration satisfies the assumptions of the method. The difference in point of view between classic probability theory and sampling theory is, roughly, that probability theory starts from the given parameters of a total population to deduce probabilities that pertain to samples. Statistical inference, however, moves in the opposite direction—inductively inferring from samples to the parameters of a larger or total population.
Experimental and observational studies
A common goal for a statistical research project is to investigate causality, and in particular to draw a conclusion on the effect of changes in the values of predictors or independent variables on dependent variables. There are two major types of causal statistical studies: experimental studies and observational studies. In both types of studies, the effect of differences of an independent variable (or variables) on the behavior of the dependent variable are observed. The difference between the two types lies in how the study is actually conducted. Each can be very effective. An experimental study involves taking measurements of the system under study, manipulating the system, and then taking additional measurements using the same procedure to determine if the manipulation has modified the values of the measurements. In contrast, an observational study does not involve experimental manipulation. Instead, data are gathered and correlations between predictors and response are investigated. While the tools of data analysis work best on data from randomized studies, they are also applied to other kinds of data—like natural experiments and observational studies—for which a statistician would use a modified, more structured estimation method (e.g., Difference in differences estimation and instrumental variables, among many others) that produce consistent estimators.
The basic steps of a statistical experiment are:
- Planning the research, including finding the number of replicates of the study, using the following information: preliminary estimates regarding the size of treatment effects, alternative hypotheses, and the estimated experimental variability. Consideration of the selection of experimental subjects and the ethics of research is necessary. Statisticians recommend that experiments compare (at least) one new treatment with a standard treatment or control, to allow an unbiased estimate of the difference in treatment effects.
- Design of experiments, using blocking to reduce the influence of confounding variables, and randomized assignment of treatments to subjects to allow unbiased estimates of treatment effects and experimental error. At this stage, the experimenters and statisticians write the experimental protocol that will guide the performance of the experiment and which specifies the primary analysis of the experimental data.
- Performing the experiment following the experimental protocol and analyzing the data following the experimental protocol.
- Further examining the data set in secondary analyses, to suggest new hypotheses for future study.
- Documenting and presenting the results of the study.
Experiments on human behavior have special concerns. The famous Hawthorne study examined changes to the working environment at the Hawthorne plant of the Western Electric Company. The researchers were interested in determining whether increased illumination would increase the productivity of the assembly line workers. The researchers first measured the productivity in the plant, then modified the illumination in an area of the plant and checked if the changes in illumination affected productivity. It turned out that productivity indeed improved (under the experimental conditions). However, the study is heavily criticized today for errors in experimental procedures, specifically for the lack of a control group and blindness. The Hawthorne effect refers to finding that an outcome (in this case, worker productivity) changed due to observation itself. Those in the Hawthorne study became more productive not because the lighting was changed but because they were being observed.
An example of an observational study is one that explores the association between smoking and lung cancer. This type of study typically uses a survey to collect observations about the area of interest and then performs statistical analysis. In this case, the researchers would collect observations of both smokers and non-smokers, perhaps through a cohort study, and then look for the number of cases of lung cancer in each group. A case-control study is another type of observational study in which people with and without the outcome of interest (e.g. lung cancer) are invited to participate and their exposure histories are collected.
Types of data
Main articles: Statistical data type and Levels of measurement
Various attempts have been made to produce a taxonomy of levels of measurement. The psychophysicist Stanley Smith Stevens defined nominal, ordinal, interval, and ratio scales. Nominal measurements do not have meaningful rank order among values, and permit any one-to-one transformation. Ordinal measurements have imprecise differences between consecutive values, but have a meaningful order to those values, and permit any order-preserving transformation. Interval measurements have meaningful distances between measurements defined, but the zero value is arbitrary (as in the case with longitude and temperature measurements in Celsius or Fahrenheit), and permit any linear transformation. Ratio measurements have both a meaningful zero value and the distances between different measurements defined, and permit any rescaling transformation.
Because variables conforming only to nominal or ordinal measurements cannot be reasonably measured numerically, sometimes they are grouped together as categorical variables, whereas ratio and interval measurements are grouped together as quantitative variables, which can be either discrete or continuous, due to their numerical nature. Such distinctions can often be loosely correlated with data type in computer science, in that dichotomous categorical variables may be represented with the Boolean data type, polytomous categorical variables with arbitrarily assigned integers in the integral data type, and continuous variables with the real data type involving floating point computation. But the mapping of computer science data types to statistical data types depends on which categorization of the latter is being implemented.
Other categorizations have been proposed. For example, Mosteller and Tukey (1977) distinguished grades, ranks, counted fractions, counts, amounts, and balances. Nelder (1990) described continuous counts, continuous ratios, count ratios, and categorical modes of data. See also Chrisman (1998), van den Berg (1991).
The issue of whether or not it is appropriate to apply different kinds of statistical methods to data obtained from different kinds of measurement procedures is complicated by issues concerning the transformation of variables and the precise interpretation of research questions. "The relationship between the data and what they describe merely reflects the fact that certain kinds of statistical statements may have truth values which are not invariant under some transformations. Whether or not a transformation is sensible to contemplate depends on the question one is trying to answer" (Hand, 2004, p. 82).
Terminology and theory of inferential statistics
Statistics, estimators and pivotal quantities
Consider independent identically distributed (IID) random variables with a given probability distribution: standard statistical inference and estimation theory defines a random sample as the random vector given by the column vector of these IID variables. The population being examined is described by a probability distribution that may have unknown parameters.
A statistic is a random variable that is a function of the random sample, but not a function of unknown parameters. The probability distribution of the statistic, though, may have unknown parameters.
Consider now a function of the unknown parameter: an estimator is a statistic used to estimate such function. Commonly used estimators include sample mean, unbiased sample variance and sample covariance.
A random variable that is a function of the random sample and of the unknown parameter, but whose probability distribution does not depend on the unknown parameter is called a pivotal quantity or pivot. Widely used pivots include the z-score, the chi square statistic and Student's t-value.
Between two estimators of a given parameter, the one with lower mean squared error is said to be more efficient. Furthermore, an estimator is said to be unbiased if its expected value is equal to the true value of the unknown parameter being estimated, and asymptotically unbiased if its expected value converges at the limit to the true value of such parameter.
Other desirable properties for estimators include: UMVUE estimators that have the lowest variance for all possible values of the parameter to be estimated (this is usually an easier property to verify than efficiency) and consistent estimators which converges in probability to the true value of such parameter.
This still leaves the question of how to obtain estimators in a given situation and carry the computation, several methods have been proposed: the method of moments, the maximum likelihood method, the least squares method and the more recent method of estimating equations.
Null hypothesis and alternative hypothesis
Interpretation of statistical information can often involve the development of a null hypothesis which is usually (but not necessarily) that no relationship exists among variables or that no change occurred over time.
The best illustration for a novice is the predicament encountered by a criminal trial. The null hypothesis, H0, asserts that the defendant is innocent, whereas the alternative hypothesis, H1, asserts that the defendant is guilty. The indictment comes because of suspicion of the guilt. The H0 (status quo) stands in opposition to H1 and is maintained unless H1 is supported by evidence "beyond a reasonable doubt". However, "failure to reject H0" in this case does not imply innocence, but merely that the evidence was insufficient to convict. So the jury does not necessarily accept H0 but fails to reject H0. While one can not "prove" a null hypothesis, one can test how close it is to being true with a power test, which tests for type II errors.
What statisticians call an alternative hypothesis is simply a hypothesis that contradicts the null hypothesis.
Working from a null hypothesis, two basic forms of error are recognized:
- Type I errors where the null hypothesis is falsely rejected giving a "false positive".
- Type II errors where the null hypothesis fails to be rejected and an actual difference between populations is missed giving a "false negative".
Standard deviation refers to the extent to which individual observations in a sample differ from a central value, such as the sample or population mean, while Standard error refers to an estimate of difference between sample mean and population mean.
A statistical error is the amount by which an observation differs from its expected value, a residual is the amount an observation differs from the value the estimator of the expected value assumes on a given sample (also called prediction).
Mean squared error is used for obtaining efficient estimators, a widely used class of estimators. Root mean square error is simply the square root of mean squared error.
Many statistical methods seek to minimize the residual sum of squares, and these are called "methods of least squares" in contrast to Least absolute deviations. The latter gives equal weight to small and big errors, while the former gives more weight to large errors. Residual sum of squares is also differentiable, which provides a handy property for doing regression. Least squares applied to linear regression is called ordinary least squares method and least squares applied to nonlinear regression is called non-linear least squares. Also in a linear regression model the non deterministic part of the model is called error term, disturbance or more simply noise. Both linear regression and non-linear regression are addressed in polynomial least squares, which also describes the variance in a prediction of the dependent variable (y axis) as a function of the independent variable (x axis) and the deviations (errors, noise, disturbances) from the estimated (fitted) curve.
Measurement processes that generate statistical data are also subject to error. Many of these errors are classified as random (noise) or systematic (bias), but other types of errors (e.g., blunder, such as when an analyst reports incorrect units) can also be important. The presence of missing data or censoring may result in biased estimates and specific techniques have been developed to address these problems.
Main article: Interval estimation
Most studies only sample part of a population, so results don't fully represent the whole population. Any estimates obtained from the sample only approximate the population value. Confidence intervals allow statisticians to express how closely the sample estimate matches the true value in the whole population. Often they are expressed as 95% confidence intervals. Formally, a 95% confidence interval for a value is a range where, if the sampling and analysis were repeated under the same conditions (yielding a different dataset), the interval would include the true (population) value in 95% of all possible cases. This does not imply that the probability that the true value is in the confidence interval is 95%. From the frequentist perspective, such a claim does not even make sense, as the true value is not a random variable. Either the true value is or is not within the given interval. However, it is true that, before any data are sampled and given a plan for how to construct the confidence interval, the probability is 95% that the yet-to-be-calculated interval will cover the true value: at this point, the limits of the interval are yet-to-be-observed random variables. One approach that does yield an interval that can be interpreted as having a given probability of containing the true value is to use a credible interval from Bayesian statistics: this approach depends on a different way of interpreting what is meant by "probability", that is as a Bayesian probability.
In principle confidence intervals can be symmetrical or asymmetrical. An interval can be asymmetrical because it works as lower or upper bound for a parameter (left-sided interval or right sided interval), but it can also be asymmetrical because the two sided interval is built violating symmetry around the estimate. Sometimes the bounds for a confidence interval are reached asymptotically and these are used to approximate the true bounds.
Main article: Statistical significance
Statistics rarely give a simple Yes/No type answer to the question under analysis. Interpretation often comes down to the level of statistical significance applied to the numbers and often refers to the probability of a value accurately rejecting the null hypothesis (sometimes referred to as the p-value).
The standard approach is to test a null hypothesis against an alternative hypothesis. A critical region is the set of values of the estimator that leads to refuting the null hypothesis. The probability of type I error is therefore the probability that the estimator belongs to the critical region given that null hypothesis is true (statistical significance) and the probability of type II error is the probability that the estimator doesn't belong to the critical region given that the alternative hypothesis is true. The statistical power of a test is the probability that it correctly rejects the null hypothesis when the null hypothesis is false.
Referring to statistical significance does not necessarily mean that the overall result is significant in real world terms. For example, in a large study of a drug it may be shown that the drug has a statistically significant but very small beneficial effect, such that the drug is unlikely to help the patient noticeably.
While in principle the acceptable level of statistical significance may be subject to debate, the p-value is the smallest significance level that allows the test to reject the null hypothesis. This is logically equivalent to saying that the p-value is the probability, assuming the null hypothesis is true, of observing a result at least as extreme as the test statistic. Therefore, the smaller the p-value, the lower the probability of committing type I error.
Some problems are usually associated with this framework (See criticism of hypothesis testing):
- A difference that is highly statistically significant can still be of no practical significance, but it is possible to properly formulate tests to account for this. One response involves going beyond reporting only the significance level to include the p-value when reporting whether a hypothesis is rejected or accepted. The p-value, however, does not indicate the size or importance of the observed effect and can also seem to exaggerate the importance of minor differences in large studies. A better and increasingly common approach is to report confidence intervals. Although these are produced from the same calculations as those of hypothesis tests or p-values, they describe both the size of the effect and the uncertainty surrounding it.
- Fallacy of the transposed conditional, aka prosecutor's fallacy: criticisms arise because the hypothesis testing approach forces one hypothesis (the null hypothesis) to be favored, since what is being evaluated is probability of the observed result given the null hypothesis and not probability of the null hypothesis given the observed result. An alternative to this approach is offered by Bayesian inference, although it requires establishing a prior probability.
- Rejecting the null hypothesis does not automatically prove the alternative hypothesis.
- As everything in inferential statistics it relies on sample size, and therefore under fat tails p-values may be seriously mis-computed.[clarification needed]
Some well-known statistical tests and procedures are:
Main article: Misuse of statistics
Misuse of statistics can produce subtle, but serious errors in description and interpretation—subtle in the sense that even experienced professionals make such errors, and serious in the sense that they can lead to devastating decision errors. For instance, social policy, medical practice, and the reliability of structures like bridges all rely on the proper use of statistics.
Even when statistical techniques are correctly applied, the results can be difficult to interpret for those lacking expertise. The statistical significance of a trend in the data—which measures the extent to which a trend could be caused by random variation in the sample—may or may not agree with an intuitive sense of its significance. The set of basic statistical skills (and skepticism) that people need to deal with information in their everyday lives properly is referred to as statistical literacy.
There is a general perception that statistical knowledge is all-too-frequently intentionally misused by finding ways to interpret only the data that are favorable to the presenter. A mistrust and misunderstanding of statistics is associated with the quotation, "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics". Misuse of statistics can be both inadvertent and intentional, and the book How to Lie with Statistics outlines a range of considerations. In an attempt to shed light on the use and misuse of statistics, reviews of statistical techniques used in particular fields are conducted (e.g. Warne, Lazo, Ramos, and Ritter (2012)).
Ways to avoid misuse of statistics include using proper diagrams and avoiding bias. Misuse can occur when conclusions are overgeneralized and claimed to be representative of more than they really are, often by either deliberately or unconsciously overlooking sampling bias. Bar graphs are arguably the easiest diagrams to use and understand, and they can be made either by hand or with simple computer programs. Unfortunately, most people do not look for bias or errors, so they are not noticed. Thus, people may often believe that something is true even if it is not well represented. To make data gathered from statistics believable and accurate, the sample taken must be representative of the whole. According to Huff, "The dependability of a sample can be destroyed by [bias]... allow yourself some degree of skepticism."
To assist in the understanding of statistics Huff proposed a series of questions to be asked in each case:
- Who says so? (Does he/she have an axe to grind?)
- How does he/she know? (Does he/she have the resources to know the facts?)
- What’s missing? (Does he/she give us a complete picture?)
- Did someone change the subject? (Does he/she offer us the right answer to the wrong problem?)
- Does it make sense? (Is his/her conclusion logical and consistent with what we already know?)
The concept of correlation is particularly noteworthy for the potential confusion it can cause. Statistical analysis of a data set often reveals that two variables (properties) of the population under consideration tend to vary together, as if they were connected. For example, a study of annual income that also looks at age of death might find that poor people tend to have shorter lives than affluent people. The two variables are said to be correlated; however, they may or may not be the cause of one another. The correlation phenomena could be caused by a third, previously unconsidered phenomenon, called a lurking variable or confounding variable. For this reason, there is no way to immediately infer the existence of a causal relationship between the two variables. (See Correlation does not imply causation.)
History of statistical science
Main articles: History of statistics and Founders of statistics
Statistical methods date back at least to the 5th century BC.
Some scholars pinpoint the origin of statistics to 1663, with the publication of Natural and Political Observations upon the Bills of Mortality by John Graunt. Early applications of statistical thinking revolved around the needs of states to base policy on demographic and economic data, hence its stat- etymology. The scope of the discipline of statistics broadened in the early 19th century to include the collection and analysis of data in general. Today, statistics is widely employed in government, business, and natural and social sciences.
Its mathematical foundations were laid in the 17th century with the development of the probability theory by Gerolamo Cardano, Blaise Pascal and Pierre de Fermat. Mathematical probability theory arose from the study of games of chance, although the concept of probability was already examined in medieval law and by philosophers such as Juan Caramuel. The method of least squares was first described by Adrien-Marie Legendre in 1805.
The modern field of statistics emerged in the late 19th and early 20th century in three stages. The first wave, at the turn of the century, was led by the work of Francis Galton and Karl Pearson, who transformed statistics into a rigorous mathematical discipline used for analysis, not just in science, but in industry and politics as well. Galton's contributions included introducing the concepts of standard deviation, correlation, regression analysis and the application of these methods to the study of the variety of human characteristics—height, weight, eyelash length among others. Pearson developed the Pearson product-moment correlation coefficient, defined as a product-moment, the method of moments for the fitting of distributions to samples and the Pearson distribution, among many other things. Galton and Pearson founded Biometrika as the first journal of mathematical statistics and biostatistics (then called biometry), and the latter founded the world's first university statistics department at University College London.
Ronald Fisher coined the term null hypothesis during the Lady tasting tea experiment, which "is never proved or established, but is possibly disproved, in the course of experimentation".
The second wave of the 1910s and 20s was initiated by William Gosset, and reached its culmination in the insights of Ronald Fisher, who wrote the textbooks that were to define the academic discipline in universities around the world. Fisher's most important publications were his 1918 seminal paper The Correlation between Relatives on the Supposition of Mendelian Inheritance, which was the first to use the statistical term, variance, his classic 1925 work Statistical Methods for Research Workers and his 1935 The Design of Experiments, where he developed rigorous design of experiments models. He originated the concepts of sufficiency, ancillary statistics, Fisher's linear discriminator and Fisher information. In his 1930 book The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection he applied statistics to various biological concepts such as Fisher's principle). Nevertheless, A. W. F. Edwards has remarked that it is "probably the most celebrated argument in evolutionary biology". (about the sex ratio), the Fisherian runaway, a concept in sexual selection about a positive feedback runaway affect found in evolution.
The final wave, which mainly saw the refinement and expansion of earlier developments, emerged from the collaborative work between Egon Pearson and Jerzy Neyman in the 1930s. They introduced the concepts of "Type II" error, power of a test and confidence intervals. Jerzy Neyman in 1934 showed that stratified random sampling was in general a better method of estimation than purposive (quota) sampling.
Today, statistical methods are applied in all fields that involve decision making, for making accurate inferences from a collated body of data and for making decisions in the face of uncertainty based on statistical methodology. The use of modern computers has expedited large-scale statistical computations, and has also made possible new methods that are impractical to perform manually. Statistics continues to be an area of active research, for example on the problem of how to analyze Big data.
Applied statistics, theoretical statistics and mathematical statistics
"Applied statistics" comprises descriptive statistics and the application of inferential statistics.Theoretical statistics concerns both the logical arguments underlying justification of approaches to statistical inference, as well encompassing mathematical statistics. Mathematical statistics includes not only the manipulation of probability distributions necessary for deriving results related to methods of estimation and inference, but also various aspects of computational statistics and the design of experiments.
Machine learning and data mining
There are two applications for machine learning and data mining: data management and data analysis. Statistics tools are necessary for the data analysis.
Statistics in society
Statistics is applicable to a wide variety of academic disciplines, including natural and social sciences, government, and business. Statistical consultants can help organizations and companies that don't have in-house expertise relevant to their particular questions.
Main article: Computational statistics
The rapid and sustained increases in computing power starting from the second half of the 20th century have had a substantial impact on the practice of statistical science. Early statistical models were almost always from the class of linear models, but powerful computers, coupled with suitable numerical algorithms, caused an increased interest in nonlinear models (such as neural networks) as well as the creation of new types, such as generalized linear models and multilevel models.
Increased computing power has also led to the growing popularity of computationally intensive methods based on resampling, such as permutation tests and the bootstrap, while techniques such as Gibbs sampling have made use of Bayesian models more feasible. The computer revolution has implications for the future of statistics with new emphasis on "experimental" and "empirical" statistics. A large number of both general and special purpose statistical software are now available. Examples of available software capable of complex statistical computation include programs such as Mathematica, SAS, SPSS, and R.
Statistics applied to mathematics or the arts
Traditionally, statistics was concerned with drawing inferences using a semi-standardized methodology that was "required learning" in most sciences. This has changed with use of statistics in non-inferential contexts. What was once considered a dry subject, taken in many fields as a degree-requirement, is now viewed enthusiastically.[according to whom?] Initially derided by some mathematical purists, it is now considered essential methodology in certain areas.
- In number theory, scatter plots of data generated by a distribution function may be transformed with familiar tools used in statistics to reveal underlying patterns, which may then lead to hypotheses.
- Methods of statistics including predictive methods in forecasting are combined with chaos theory and fractal geometry to create video works that are considered to have great beauty.
- The process art of Jackson Pollock relied on artistic experiments whereby underlying distributions in nature were artistically revealed. With the advent of computers, statistical methods were applied to formalize such distribution-driven natural processes to make and analyze moving video art.
- Methods of statistics may be used predicatively in performance art, as in a card trick based on a Markov process that only works some of the time, the occasion of which can be predicted using statistical methodology.
- Statistics can be used to predicatively create art, as in the statistical or stochastic music invented by Iannis Xenakis, where the music is performance-specific. Though this type of artistry does not always come out as expected, it does behave in ways that are predictable and tunable using statistics.
Main article: List of fields of application of statistics
Statistical techniques are used in a wide range of types of scientific and social research, including: biostatistics, computational biology, computational sociology, network biology, social science, sociology and social research. Some fields of inquiry use applied statistics so extensively that they have specialized terminology. These disciplines include:
In addition, there are particular types of statistical analysis that have also developed their own specialised terminology and methodology:
Statistics form a key basis tool in business and manufacturing as well. It is used to understand measurement systems variability, control processes (as in statistical process control or SPC), for summarizing data, and to make data-driven decisions. In these roles, it is a key tool, and perhaps the only reliable tool.