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Statistics is a mathematical science pertaining to the collection, analysis, interpretation or explanation, and presentation of data. It is applicable to a wide variety of academic disciplines, from the natural and social sciences to the humanities, government and business.

Statistical methods are used to summarize and describe a collection of data; this is called descriptive statistics. In addition, patterns in the data may be modeled in a way that accounts for randomness and uncertainty in the observations, and then used to draw inferences about the process or population being studied; this is called inferential statistics.

Statistics arose no later than the 18th century from the need of states to collect data on their people and economies, in order to administer them. The meaning broadened in the early 19th century to include the collection and analysis of data in general.

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Would you switch?
The Monty Hall game

The Monty Hall problem is a probability puzzle based on the American television game show Let's Make a Deal. The name comes from the show host, Monty Hall. The problem is also called the Monty Hall paradox, as it is a veridical paradox in that the result appears absurd but is demonstrated to be true.

A well-known statement of the problem was published in Parade magazine: "Suppose you're on a game show, and you're given the choice of three doors: Behind one door is a car; behind the others, goats. You pick a door, say No. 1, and the host, who knows what's behind the doors, opens another door, say No. 3, which has a goat. He then says to you, "Do you want to pick door No. 2?" Is it to your advantage to switch your choice?"

Because there is no way for the player to know which of the two remaining unopened doors is the winning door, most people assume that each of these doors has an equal probability and conclude that switching does not matter. In fact, the player should switch - doing so doubles the probability of winning the car from 1/3 to 2/3.

When the problem and the solution appeared in Parade, approximately 10,000 readers wrote to the magazine claiming the published solution was wrong.


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William Sealy Gosset.jpg
William Gosset

William Sealy Gosset (1876–1937) is better known by his pen name Student and gave this name to Student's t-test and Student's t-distribution. He joined the Dublin brewery of Arthur Guinness & Son in 1899, where he applied his statistical knowledge both in the brewery and on the farm to the selection of the best yielding varieties of barley. Gosset's key 1908 papers addressed the brewer's concern with small samples. To prevent further disclosure of confidential information, Guinness prohibited its employees from publishing any papers regardless of the contained information, so Gosset used the pseudonym Student for his publications to avoid their detection by his employer.


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Anscombe's quartet
Credit: Schutz

Anscombe's quartet comprises four datasets which have identical simple statistical properties (mean, standard deviation, correlation, etc), yet which are revealed to be very different when inspected graphically. Each dataset consists of eleven (x,y) points. They were constructed in 1973 by the statistician F.J. Anscombe to demonstrate the importance of graphing data before analyzing it, and of the effect of outliers on the statistical properties of a dataset.


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