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Modern statistics: the myth and the magic

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The paper is a personal exploration of the puzzling contradiction between the fundamental excitement of statistics and its poor public image. It begins with the historical foundations and proceeds through the role of applications and the dramatic impact of the computer in shaping the discipline. The mismatch between the reality of statistics and its public perception arises from a number of dichotomies, some of which are explored. In particular, although statistics is perhaps typically seen as an impersonal discipline, in some sense it is very personal, and many of its applications are aimed at providing unique benefit to individuals. This benefit depends on the creation of detailed data sets describing individuals, but the contrary view is that this represents an invasion of privacy. Some observations on statistical education are made, and issues which will affect the future health of the discipline are examined.

Keywords: Applications; Computer; Education; Empirical models; Greater statistics; Privacy; Public perception

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Imperial College London, UK

Publication date: April 1, 2009


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