Are there benefits to gaining a strong statistical background?

If you ask any student doing a Psychology degree what their LEAST favourite module is, I can guarantee that almost every single student will say “statistics”. Being a Psychology student myself, I don’t have to hesitate when I admit that Stats genuinely does scare me! There appears to be hundreds of formulas to remember, and different types of tests to learn etc, etc..

Even though the idea of statistics is pretty daunting, I must admit that I do appreciate the benefits of gaining a strong statistical background before beginning an experiment. Without finding previous research and statistics how are we supposed to produce reliable data and justify our theories and predictions? Without statistics, who knows what conclusions psychologists will come up with. Statistical and research methods are put in place in so information on the topic can be collected, then organised into appropriate categories, this then allows the researcher to analyse the data and interoperate what they have analysed.  

Not only is this important in terms of Psychology, but statistical research is also important in other professions. For example, if I was going to be prescribed medication for a bad stomach, I definitely want the percentage of people who have got better from this medicine to be higher than the percentage of people who have grown an extra ear or something due to this medication!! Luckily, I know that scientists will have done appropriate research and they will have produced statistics which show the medicine is more likely to help the stomach problem than to cause far more issues.  

Also, choices we make in our day to day lives are actually influenced by stats. For example, if you’re planning on losing weight, you may be tempted to follow the crazy diet plan of only eating a bowl of cereal for breakfast, lunch AND dinner because you were told that 80% of women did it and they “dropped a dress size in JUST two weeks”!!  Adverts on TV, in magazines and on the radio all try and win us over by throwing in some numbers, and if we’re honest.. it works! But this is where there is a downfall with statistical research, so yes the background info is great BUT we need to make sure we know we are using and following the statistical research correctly. Some (I repeat… some) researchers in the media do use statistics in a manipulative way for their own benefit, and they try and trick consumers.

..Take a look at this Clinque advert for example.

http://www.tellyads.com/show_movie.php?filename=TA12652

Just 4 seconds into this advert, the woman proudly boasts “76% of women agree it helps create the appearance of a more even skin tone”. If you were planning on buying a product like this, 76% may sway your vote as it is a fairly large percentage! However, if you look on the bottom right hand corner, in tiny writing it says “76% of 204 UK women”. If you think about it, is that really reliable? 204 women is not a huge sample size!  That’s only about 155 women who agreed that the product is worth buying. What about the 24% of women who didn’t agree?? What did those 49 women think about the makeup, did it make them look worse? Am I going to spend 30 odd quid on something that’s going to make me look worse than before. So next time you’re thinking of buying something due to the amazing statistics, just stop and take a closer look!

In conclusion, I do think there are benefits to gaining a strong statistical background, to ensure that the conclusions we come to are reliable. However, we must be careful not to be bias when analysing and presenting our statistical results.

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5 thoughts on “Are there benefits to gaining a strong statistical background?

  1. statisticallybloggingisuncool says:

    This is perhaps the greatest blog of all time! It’s really clear and presents statistics in an accessible and welcoming light, it just makes me want to do t-tests all day long. But seriously, the blog is written well and is not intimidating despite the subject matter being statistics. I like the medical example and even though it is an argument presented in a light-hearted way it does show how important statistics can be (no-one wants an extra ear). The advertising example is a good one also and shows on a more personal level how statistics can effect our pockets as well as our ears. Keep blogging superstar.

    Love, your biggest fan.

  2. vickygoodwin says:

    I really enjoyed this blog but can I ask you a question in regards to your conclusion? You warn that people must not be biased when analysing and presenting their statistical results. Don’t you think that having a strong statistical background would prevent people from being biased? Understanding the different statistical procedures would educate the said person in these matters, so bias would be reduced if not completely removed?

  3. 1jessicakes says:

    I loved that your argument wasnt daunting in anyway! You really managed to break down your thoughts well and even someone who had no statistical background could most definitely understand your work! And, isn’t that what all this is about? As you said, we shouldnt be bias when presenting statistical work; and you most certainly weren’t when you were talking about statistics either! Its great to have an open mind about the topic, and your great supply of examples added light-heartedness to your argument! I thoroughly enjoyed reading this; it would most definitely be interesting to know why 49 women didnt like the make-up! Breaking that percentage down to real digits really made all the difference! Maybe we would all think twice about buying the product!

    (Reference: “Stats and the Media” – http://eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/recordDetail?accno=EJ339396)

  4. steveytea says:

    In your conclusion you mention that you have to be careful or being bias with presenting your statistical results but wouldn’t coming from a strong statistical background would help you to not do that? Unless you’re in advertising of course, in which case you would want to be able to misinterpret your data to help sell your product? Which would require a strong statistical background anyway. Damn, statistics really is beneficial!

  5. rhiresearchskills says:

    This blog is amazing! Was so easy to read and made me laugh! Your examples where great. I agree that the media can manipulate their results to look much better than what they are and do not always use a true representation of the population which to a person with no statisical background can be misleading. As much as I hate learning stats I am glad I have now that I am much more aware of the day to day statistics im presented.
    Well done on the blog 🙂

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