Making sense of statistics – the first World Stats Day kicks off

Today marks the first ever World Statistics Day, a UN initiative aimed at ‘celebrating the many contributions and achievements of official statistics’ to society.

All over the world, events are taking place as part of World Statistics Day, which is aimed at raising public trust and awareness in national and international official statistics.

Professor Chris Wild (University of Auckland) and co-authors will be presenting a paper at the Royal Statistical Society (UK) on how better to educate students in their understanding of statistics.  The paper can be downloaded here, and the accompanying animations and software are available here.

The UK will use World Statistics Day to kick off a 10 year “getstats” campaign to dispel misconceptions and enable people to make more sense of statistics.

Associate Professor Jennifer Brown, of the University of Canterbury, has written a column for WSD, which can be found here.

New Zealand is heavily involved in World Statistics Day, and the SMC has gathered together a list (below) of the various resources around it.

If you would like to talk to the experts above or need the help of a statistician, contact the SMC.

Associate Professor David Scott, of the Department of Statistics at the University of Auckland, comments:

Why are statistics important?

“Statistics are vital for rational decision making. Without statistics, decision-making is based on anecdote and feelings. As a subject statistics is the art of making decisions under uncertainty. Uncertainty abounds in the real world and statistical thinking is our best means of dealing with it.”

What misconception around statistics that you’ve seen, would you like to correct?

“The most egregious problem I see with statistics is the reporting of the results of associations found in a single study as fact. ” Every extra unit of alcohol per day is associated with a 10% increase in the risk of breast cancer” . Studies can be flawed and different conditions can produce different results. Only a true experiment provides convincing evidence of causation.”

What are some of the new developments in the field?

“New developments are everywhere in statistics because of increasing amounts of data collection and increased capabilities in both hardware and software. One area which will affect consumers more and more is the analysis of consumer data collected by all sorts of companies and organisations which will discover patterns of individual behaviour and preferences. Perhaps the richest source of data of this kind which is being tapped already is that held by Google detailing what people search on. This can be used to predict human behaviour in remarkable ways.”