Why Statistics?

Devil's Golf Course, Death Valley NP.

When asked what he would like the general public to learn about his discipline, computer scientist Ian Parberry said the following:

We need to do away with the myth that computer science is about computers. Computer science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes, biology is about microscopes, or chemistry is about beakers and test tubes. Science is not about tools; it is about how we use them and what we find out when we do.

Similarly, statistics is not just about models or the theory; these are just tools we use to solve problems. To me, statistics is the practice of using these tools to advance our understanding of critical real-world problems, not just of scientific importance but of societal importance as well.

My passion for statistics has never been about the tools. Although I appreciate mathematical & statistical theory more these days, I’m primarily motivated by what I can do with the tools in applied problems.

And the thing is, there is no shortage of interesting, important, and difficult real-world problems that statisticians can work on. Suppose your interests lie in addressing some real-world problem (in fields like public health, criminal justice, psychology, ecology, just to name a few). In that case, I guarantee some areas could use more statistical expertise.

Of course, not all problems and decisions in society need/should be data-driven. But it is so cool that statisticians can transcend disciplines and contribute in so many different areas.

If you’re one of my students, feel free to talk to me in office hours about this stuff!