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1.2 The Branches of Statistics

Two branches, descriptive statistics and inferential statistics, comprise the field of statistics.

Descriptive Statistics

CONCEPT The branch of statistics that focuses on collecting, summarizing, and presenting a set of data.

EXAMPLES The average age of citizens who voted for the winning candidate in the last presidential election, the average length of all books about statistics, the variation in the weight of 100 boxes of cereal selected from a factory's production line.

INTERPRETATION You are most likely to be familiar with this branch of statistics, because many examples arise in everyday life. Descriptive statistics forms the basis for analysis and discussion in such diverse fields as securities trading, the social sciences, government, the health sciences, and professional sports. A general familiarity and widespread availability of descriptive methods in many calculating devices and business software can often make using this branch of statistics seem deceptively easy. (Chapters 2 and 3 warn you of the common pitfalls of using descriptive methods.)

Inferential Statistics

CONCEPT The branch of statistics that analyzes sample data to draw conclusions about a population.

EXAMPLE A survey that sampled 2,001 full-or part-time workers ages 50 to 70, conducted by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), discovered that 70% of those polled planned to work past the traditional mid-60s retirement age. By using methods discussed in Section 6.4, this statistic could be used to draw conclusions about the population of all workers ages 50 to 70.

INTERPRETATION When you use inferential statistics, you start with a hypothesis and look to see whether the data are consistent with that hypothesis. Inferential statistical methods can be easily misapplied or misconstrued, and many inferential methods require the use of a calculator or computer. (A full explanation of common inferential methods appears in Chapters 6 through 9.)

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