When describing statements with numbers, people often refer to them as statistics. For instance, if 70 out of 100 students got a B on an English test, that would be a statistic. So would the make-believe statement “90 percent of toddlers love tuna.” But the field of statistics involves much more than a collection of factoids.
Statistics is a different kind of animal than other fields of STEM. Some people consider it to be a type of math. Others argue that while statistics is like math, it’s too different from math subjects to be viewed as part of that field.
Researchers see data all around them. Data are waiting to be gathered from penguin poop and the weather outside. They lurk in the motion of planets and talks with teens about why they vape. But these data alone don’t help researchers get far. Scientists need to think through how they structure their studies to glean meaningful information from these data.
“I have skills marine biologists need — and those skills are statistics,” says Leslie New. She is a statistical ecologist at Washington State University in Vancouver. New uses statistics to study study marine mammals, such as whales and dolphins.