- 1: a branch of mathematics dealing with the collection, analysis, interpretation, and presentation of masses of numerical data
- 2: a collection of quantitative data
Statistics is described as a mathematical body of science that pertains to the collection, analysis, interpretation or explanation, and presentation of data, or as a branch of mathematics concerned with collecting and interpreting data. Because of its empirical roots and its focus on applications, statistics is typically considered a distinct mathematical science rather than as a branch of mathematics. Some tasks a statistician may involve are less mathematical; for example, ensuring that data collection is undertaken in a way that produces valid conclusions, coding data, or reporting results in ways comprehensible to those who must use them.
Statisticians improve data quality by developing specific experiment designs and survey samples. Statistics itself also provides tools for prediction and forecasting the use of data through statistical models. 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.
Statistical methods can summarize or describe a collection of data. This is called descriptive statistics. This is particularly useful in communicating the results of experiments and research. In addition, data patterns may be modeled in a way that accounts for randomness and uncertainty in the observations.
These models can be used to draw inferences about the process or population under study—a practice called inferential statistics. Inference is a vital element of scientific advance, since it provides a way to draw conclusions from data that are subject to random variation. To prove the propositions being investigated further, the conclusions are tested as well, as part of the scientific method. Descriptive statistics and analysis of the new data tend to provide more information as to the truth of the proposition.
"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.
Statistics is closely related to probability theory, with which it is often grouped. The difference 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. Statistics has many ties to machine learning and data mining.