Statistics depends on math, like a lot of other disciplines (physics, engineering, chemistry, computer science). But just like those other disciplines, statistics is not math; math is just a tool used to solve statistical problems. Unlike those other disciplines, statistics gets lumped in with math in headlines. Whenever people use statistical analysis to solve an interesting problem, the headline reads:

“Math can be used to solve amazing problem X”

or

“The Math of Y”

Here are some examples:

The Mathematics of Lego - Using data on legos to estimate a distribution

The Mathematics of War - Using data on conflicts to estimate a distribution

Usain Bolt can run faster with maths (Tweet) - Turns out they analyzed data on start times to come to the conclusion

The Mathematics of Beauty - Analysis of data relating dating profile responses and photo attractiveness

These are just a few off of the top of my head, but I regularly see headlines like this. I think there are a couple reasons for math being grouped with statistics: (1) many of the founders of statistics were mathematicians first (but not all of them) (2) many statisticians still identify themselves as mathematicians, and (3) in some cases statistics and statisticians define themselves pretty narrowly.

With respect to (3), consider the following list of disciplines:

- Biostatistics
- Data science
- Machine learning
- Natural language processing
- Signal processing
- Business analytics
- Econometrics
- Text mining
- Social science statistics
- Process control

All of these disciplines could easily be classified as “applied statistics”. But how many folks in each of those disciplines would classify themselves as statisticians? More importantly, how many would be claimed by statisticians?

comments powered by Disqus