Why Study Statistics?

Why Study Statistics?

Picture of Campanile and library on Berkeley's campus.

Collecting, analyzing, and interpreting data is growing more important every year in nearly every field. Whether you go into business, academia, medicine, journalism, activism, or government, claims about data will profoundly influence your career and the world around you. Many important real-world decisions hinge on conflicting claims about “what the data show,” such as:

Does raising the minimum wage increase unemployment?

What forms of activism are most effective at changing voters’ minds?

Is a new cancer drug more effective than the current standard of care? Is it more effective only for a subset of patients, and if so how do we identify them? How do we design a clinical trial that gives the most precise answers while experimenting on the fewest patients?

What are the most likely ecological or agricultural effects of climate change, and how do we mitigate them?

Your professional life aside, interpreting data will also increasingly become part of your personal decision making. Should you modify your activities based on data about trends in crime? How should you interpret the results of a medical test? Should data about climate change affect your own choices, and if so, how?

These questions are complex and subtle; we cannot realistically hope for the right answer to “fall out of the data” without careful and rigorous thinking. The best reason to major in statistics is to empower yourself to be an active participant rather than a passive observer in the data-driven arguments that drive decisions and shape our understanding of the world.