Are there Benefits to Gaining a Strong Statistical Background?

Sitting in the computer lab in my university, desperately attempting to fire up a few neurons in my brain to begin my first assignment of the new year, I over hear two girls discussing the very assignment I am struggling to start. Now, normally, I do my very best to ignore these conversations as I don’t want to (consciously or unconsciously) take anyone else’s ideas, but on this occasion there was one thing I heard that I just couldn’t shake out of my head; “Statistics is good for, like, Psychology and stuff but in the real world it is pointless.” From the moment I heard that all that I could think is how this girl might feel in x amount of years if she wanted to retire and withdraw her state pension but the government told her they didn’t have any money for her because somewhere along the line someone’s statistics and working out had gone awry and now there were too many people for the money that was available (here is a link to an article in which Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith explains how the government thinks the pension age is rising too slowly http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-14871063). Or in just perhaps a few years when unemployment is a huge concern for people of our age… will the statistics of jobs and unemployment ratings be the most important thing in the world to her then? For a website that shows some statistics of unemployment in Wales visit http://new.wales.gov.uk/topics/statistics/theme/economy/people-work/unemploy/?lang=en. I understand why the girl may think this way, especially as the lectures we have on statistics seem very far away from the real world, but in reality statistics rule the societies all across the world.

Without statistics many of the things we take for granted might not be as readily available to us. Medicine, for example, might carry the risk of running out if statistics were not used to estimate how much of each type might be needed at certain times. With so much of our lives dependent on statistics (the amount of schools/hospitals in a community, the funding a council gets, etc), surely a person would want to at least have a basic knowledge of how these calculations are made – in order to check they are being made in the most appropriate way. This means that a strong statistical background for a person is not only beneficial but fundamental! Otherwise everyone would have to put blind faith into the few who are controlling a hugely important chunk of the world.

If we didn’t understand statistics how could we trust the results of a scientists studies (or the percentage of women who believe that the ‘miracle’ new anti-wrinkle cream actually works). Most people would be honest about their results but with numbers already being so easy to manipulate, it is our duty to attempt to understand as much as we can about the world we live in.

Pictures from the following sites respectively:

http://www.cartoonstock.com/newscartoons/directory/p/pension_funds.asp

http://eventingnation.com/home/2011/01/the-numbers-dont-lie.html