What Are the Branches of Statistics


One needs to understand and know about the different branches of statistics to correctly understand statistics from a more holistic point of view. Often the kind of work one has involved in hides the other aspects of statistics however it is important to know the overall idea behind statistics to appreciate its importance.

What are the Branches of Statistics?

Statistics are divided into two major divisions: descriptive and inferential. Each of these is important as they offer different techniques that accomplish different objectives. Descriptive statistics describe what is going on in a population while inferential statistics, allows scientists to collect data from a sample group and generalize them to a larger population. They both have important differences.

Descriptive Statistics

In this branch of statistics, the goal is to describe. It deals with the collection of data and its presentation in various forms, such as tables, and graphs, and finding averages and other measures which would describe the data. Numerical measures are used to tell about the features of a set of data. Several items belong in this portion of statistics which include:

  • The measure of the center of a data set, consisting of the mean, median and
  • The spread of a data set measured with the range or standard deviation
  • Measurements such as skewness
  • The exploration of relationships and correlation between paired data
  • The presentation of statistical results in graphical form

These measures are important and useful because they allow scientists to see patterns among data thus making sense of that data. Descriptive statistics can only be used to describe the population or data set under study, but the results cannot be generalized to any other group or population.

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Types of Descriptive Statistics

There are two kinds of descriptive statistics:

Measures of central tendency– capture general trends within the data and are calculated and expressed as the mean, median, and mode. A mean tells scientists the mathematical average of a data set, such as the average age at first marriage; the median represents the middle of the data distribution, like the age that sits in the middle of the range of ages at which people first marry; and, the mode might be the most common age at which people first marry.

Measures of spread– describe how the data are distributed and relate to each other, including:

  • The range, the entire range of values present in a data set
  • The frequency distribution defines how many times a particular value occurs within a data set
  • Quartiles are subgroups formed within a data set when all values are divided into four equal parts across the range
  • The average of how much each value deviates from the mean
  • Standard deviation, which illustrates the spread of data relative to the mean

Measures of spread are often visually represented in tables, pie and bar charts, and histograms to aid in the understanding of the trends within the data.

Inferential Statistics

Inferential statistics are produced through complex mathematical calculations which allow scientists to infer trends about a larger population based on a study of a sample taken from it. Scientists use inferential statistics to examine the relationships between variables within a sample and then make generalizations or predictions about how those variables will relate to a larger population.

It is usually impossible to examine each member of the population individually. So scientists choose a representative subset of the population, called a statistical sample, and from this analysis, they can say something about the population from which the sample came. There are two major divisions of inferential statistics:

  • A confidence interval gives a range of values for an unknown parameter of the population by measuring a statistical sample. This is expressed in terms of an interval and the degree of confidence that the parameter is within the interval.
  • Tests of significance or hypothesis testing are where scientists claim the population by analyzing a statistical sample. By design, there is some uncertainty in this process. This can be expressed in terms of a level of significance.

Techniques that social scientists use to examine the relationships between variables, and thereby create inferential statistics, include linear regression analyses logistic regression analyses, ANOVA, correlation analyses, structural equation modeling, and survival analysis. When conducting research using inferential statistics, scientists conduct a test of significance to determine whether they can generalize their results to a larger population. Common tests of significance include the chi-square and t-test. These tell scientists the probability that the results of their analysis of the sample are representative of the population as a whole.

Descriptive vs. Inferential Statistics

Although descriptive statistics help learn things such as the spread and center of the data, nothing in descriptive statistics can be used to make any generalizations. In descriptive statistics, measurements such as the mean and standard deviation are stated as the exact number

However, the focus is different for inferential statistics, it uses measurements such as the mean and standard deviation. Inferential statistics start with a sample and then generalize to a population. This information about a population is not stated as a number; instead, these parameters are expressed as a range of potential numbers along with a degree of confidence.

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