In the context of everyday language statistics (numbers, quantitative representations) are used to represent basketball player's free throw average, death rates, life spans and so on. In science statistics are tools used in describing, organizing, summarizing and analyzing data. Learning about stats will help you think in terms of probabilities, and allow you to gain a better understanding of research data. Statistics are not easy, but with some effort the basics can be learned by most people. Research methods and statistics are often taught together in college courses. Quantitative research uses stats, and these stats are essential in an effort to represent the data; stats are required for making sense of the research.
Descriptive statistics are numerical measures that describe a population by providing information on the central tendency of the distribution, the width of distribution (dispersion, or variability), the shape of distribution (Jackson, 2009). Inferential statistics are procedures that allow us to make an inference from a sample to the population. That is, we are able to make generalizations about a population based on the information derived from the sample.
A key reason we need statistics is to be able to effectively interpret research. Without statistics it would be very difficult to analyze the collected data and make decisions based on the data. Statistics give us an overview of the data and allow us to make sense of what is going on. Without statistics, in many cases, it would be extremely difficult to find meaning in the data. Statistics provides us with a tool to make an educated inference.
Most scientific and technical journals contain some form of statistics. Without an understanding of statistics, the statistical information contained in the journal will be meaningless. An understanding of basic statistics will provide you with the fundamental skills necessary to read and evaluate most results sections. The ability to extract meaning from journal articles, and the ability to evaluate research from a statistical perspective are basic skills that will increase your knowledge and understanding of the article of interest. To reiterate, quantitative research uses stats, and to assess statistical validity, at least a basic understanding of stats is essential.
When researchers question a study’s statistical validity they are questioning issues relevant to how well the conclusions coincide with the results, represented as statistics. Interrogating statistical validity may include some of the following questions: If the study found a difference what is the probability that the conclusion was a false alarm? If the study’s finding found no difference what is the probability that a real relationship went unnoticed? What is the effect size? Is the difference between groups statistically significant? Are the finding practically significant? What type of inferential stats were used to assess predictions? Could different statistical procedures have been used?
Gaining knowledge in the area of statistics will help you become a better-informed consumer. Statistics are difficult for many people. Students often cringe when they hear the word - statistics. Learning about statistics requires the same strategies as learning about other topics (strategies to improve learning and memory). Once an individual learns theoretical aspects and calculations used for basic statistical procedures the learning of more complex statistics become much easier. Everyone benefits from learning the basics of statistics. Statistics is not an easy subject compared to many other subjects, but the subject is much easier when one doesn't have negative expectations and realizes that with the appropriate cognitive effort and understanding of some rather basic mathematical principles the subject is learnable. Being knowledgeable in the area of statistics will be beneficial across domains of scholarly and everyday life.
Recently I asked Dr. Jonathan Gore (from Eastern Kentucky University) the following question- Why is a basic understanding of stats important for the public? He gave the following answer:
"My answer to why stats is important is that pretty much everything operates based on probability. Even some of the "hard" sciences are starting to realize that phenomena that used to only require a basic equation are now having to factor in probability to account for all that they observe."
If the objective is to thoroughly analyze the study, don't skip over the "Results" section when reading the paper. A key guideline for the Results section is a presentation of numerical findings that should be stated clearly, concisely and accurately. The methodology provides detailed information regarding processes used in the collection of data, while statistical procedures provide information on detecting meaningful signals among the noise: making sense of the data collected.
To learn more about stats and research methods read- In Evidence We Trust: The need for science, rationality and statistics (Hale,2013).
The book contains 76 questions and answers regarding scientific research methods and stats. It also contains practice problems involving statistical procedures.
References are available upon request