Why we should care about statistics

If you are at all familiar with statistics, you know it gets a bad rap in society. People often do not trust statistics as they assume the numbers and symbols they read are misleading. There are jokes about misleading statistics (e.g., "65% of statistics are made up on the spot") and useless statisticians (e.g., "Everything you've told me is completely accurate; you gave me more detail than I needed, and you told me in such a way that it's no use to me at all!"). Despite its weaknesses, statistics hold an important place in science and society. 

Any mature science needs math to generate knowledge. Science is based first and foremost on observation. Humans observe the world. After first deciding what to observe - not an easy decision - scientists then find patterns within their observations. To do so, mathematics is required (ignoring qualitative science for the moment).  It is not enough for a scientist to "eye-ball" a pattern of observations and make a conclusion. While that may be sufficient for hypotheses, theories and laws are created by infusing math into the observations. For example, the science of physics used calculus to determine the relationship between the displacement, velocity, and acceleration of objects. In social science the math is not calculus but statistics.

Social science includes fields such as political science, economics, sociology, education, and of course - my field - psychology. Social science deals with research questions that are important to many people:  voting, peace, democracy, profit, poverty, well-being.  While social science is not as precise and simple as the physical sciences, often the implications of their knowledge are bigger:  How to prevent wars? How to reduce poverty? How to increase happiness? And the only way these research questions are answered is through statistics.  Almost everything we know about how to increase happiness comes from statistics. Discovering the chemicals and sections of the brain, the genetic vs environmental influences, the best coping strategies - all were found with the help of statistics.

It is for this ultimate reason that I am interested in statistics and have created this blog. Using different statistical analyses can result in completely different conclusions - ones that can have a vast impact on the health and happiness of people all over the world. Statistics matter for social science. One cannot simply study their favorite scientific phenomena without understanding how the use of statistics are influencing their conclusions.  Through this blog, I hope to explore what statistics are available to psychologists, and other social scientists, as well as how statistics can best be used to discover knowledge about human beings.