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More probability density is found as one gets closer to the expected (mean) value in a normal distribution. Statistics used in standardized testing assessment are shown. The scales include standard deviations, cumulative percentages, Z-scores, and T-scores.

Statistics is a branch of mathematics dealing with the collection, organization, analysis, interpretation and presentation of data. In applying statistics to, for example, a scientific, industrial, or social problem, it is conventional to begin with a statistical population or a statistical model process to be studied. Populations can be diverse topics such as "all people living in a country" or "every atom composing a crystal". Statistics deals with all aspects of data including the planning of data collection in terms of the design of surveys and experiments. See glossary of probability and statistics.

When census data cannot be collected, statisticians collect data by developing specific experiment designs and survey samples. Representative sampling assures that inferences and conclusions can reasonably extend from the sample to the population as a whole. An experimental study involves taking measurements of the system under study, manipulating the system, and then taking additional measurements using the same procedure to determine if the manipulation has modified the values of the measurements. In contrast, an observational study does not involve experimental manipulation.

Two main statistical methods are used in data analysis: descriptive statistics, which summarize data from a sample using indexes such as the mean or standard deviation, and inferential statistics, which draw conclusions from data that are subject to random variation (e.g., observational errors, sampling variation). Descriptive statistics are most often concerned with two sets of properties of a distribution (sample or population): central tendency (or location) seeks to characterize the distribution's central or typical value, while dispersion (or variability) characterizes the extent to which members of the distribution depart from its center and each other. Inferences on mathematical statistics are made under the framework of probability theory, which deals with the analysis of random phenomena.

A standard statistical procedure involves the test of the relationship between two statistical data sets, or a data set and synthetic data drawn from an idealized model. A hypothesis is proposed for the statistical relationship between the two data sets, and this is compared as an alternative to an idealized null hypothesis of no relationship between two data sets. Rejecting or disproving the null hypothesis is done using statistical tests that quantify the sense in which the null can be proven false, given the data that are used in the test. Working from a null hypothesis, two basic forms of error are recognized: Type I errors (null hypothesis is falsely rejected giving a "false positive") and Type II errors (null hypothesis fails to be rejected and an actual difference between populations is missed giving a "false negative"). Multiple problems have come to be associated with this framework: ranging from obtaining a sufficient sample size to specifying an adequate null hypothesis.

Measurement processes that generate statistical data are also subject to error. Many of these errors are classified as random (noise) or systematic (bias), but other types of errors (e.g., blunder, such as when an analyst reports incorrect units) can also be important. The presence of missing data or censoring may result in biased estimates and specific techniques have been developed to address these problems.

Statistics can be said to have begun in ancient civilization, going back at least to the 5th century BC, but it was not until the 18th century that it started to draw more heavily from calculus and probability theory. In more recent years statistics has relied more on statistical software to produce tests such as descriptive analysis.

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Margin of error

The margin of error is a statistic expressing the amount of random sampling error in a survey's results. The larger the margin of error, the less confidence one should have that the poll's reported results are close to the "true" figures; that is, the figures for the whole population.

The margin of error is usually defined as the radius of a confidence interval for a particular statistic from a survey. One example is the percent of people who prefer product A versus product B. When a single, global margin of error is reported for a survey, it refers to the maximum margin of error for all reported percentages using the full sample from the survey. If the statistic is a percentage, this maximum margin of error can be calculated as the radius of the confidence interval for a reported percentage of 50%.

The margin of error has been described as an "absolute" quantity, equal to a confidence interval radius for the statistic. For example, if the true value is 50 percentage points, and the statistic has a confidence interval radius of 5 percentage points, then we say the margin of error is 5 percentage points. As another example, if the true value is 50 people, and the statistic has a confidence interval radius of 5 people, then we might say the margin of error is 5 people.


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Karl Pearson 2.jpg
Karl Pearson

Karl Pearson FRS (1857–1936) established the discipline of mathematical statistics. In 1911 he founded the world's first university statistics department at University College London. Pearson's work was all-embracing in the wide application and development of mathematical statistics, and encompassed the fields of biology, epidemiology, anthropometry, medicine and social history. Pearson's thinking underpins many of the 'classical' statistical methods which are still in common use today, including linear regression, correlation and the classification of probability distributions. He gave his name to Pearson's correlation coefficient and Pearson's chi-square test.


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Scatterplot of Old Faithful eruptions
Credit: Maksim

A scatter plot is a type of mathematical diagram using Cartesian coordinates to display values for two variables for a set of data. The data is displayed as a collection of points, each having the value of one variable determining the position on the horizontal axis and the value of the other variable determining the position on the vertical axis. A scatter plot is also called a scatter chart, scatter diagram and scatter graph. This scatter plot shows the relationship between time between eruptions and the duration of the eruption for the Old Faithful Geyser in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA. This chart suggests there are generally two "types" of eruptions: short-wait-short-duration, and long-wait-long-duration.


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