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The Art of Statistics

The Art of Statistics

Like a chef expertly combining ingredients, statistics is all about the technique.

It’s never easy explaining my line of work to other people. When I tell them I’m a statistician, I’m usually greeted with one of two responses: they either have no idea what a statistician truly is, or they assume I’m just a math guru. Well, in short, a statistician (commonly referred to as a “data scientist”) is a person well-versed in the collection, presentation, analysis, and interpretation of data. We do more than just math; statistics and data analysis are very much an art and a craft.

Although my studies in statistics emphasized the math behind the analysis, there is no definitive algorithm for applying statistics when approaching data. This became evident throughout my years as a teaching assistant while in college. Most of the students understood how to calculate the statistics but not how to use them or when to apply a certain test. Yes, the calculations need to be done. But, in today’s world, there is a plethora of tools that essentially do them for you. Once you realize this and begin utilizing all of these different tools with various types of data, the art of statistics becomes much more apparent.

Anything can be analyzed with statistics; the art is in the process. Just as a chef may take a personal experience and use a palette of ingredients, spices, and cooking techniques to create a dish that embodies that experience, a statistician must be able to look at available data and apply a palette of statistical tests, software, transformations, and graphics to illuminate meaning from numbers. Moreover, a statistician must not only understand what to do with the data they already have but also determine what data is missing and what data needs to be collected in order to achieve a particular goal or mission. The skill of handling data so as to achieve a given objective is purely artistic in nature. The art is in the action.

However, much like a chef, the statistician must be extremely careful in order to create something that is truly outstanding. The intuition, expertise, and time required to accurately pull meaning and deeper understanding from data and statistics (whether you have them already or not) deserve skillful attention. That’s why I usually go out to eat for important dates. I’ll just handle the data.