Statistics/Summary

Summary Statistics

The most simple example of statistics "in practice" is in the generation of summary statistics. Let us consider the example where we are interested in the weight of eighth graders in a school. (Maybe we're looking at the growing epidemic of child obesity in America!) Our school has 200 eighth graders, so we gather all their weights. What we have are 200 positive real numbers.

If an administrator asked you what the weight was of this eighth grade class, you wouldn't grab your list and start reading off all the individual weights; it's just too much information. That same administrator wouldn't learn anything except that she shouldn't ask you any questions in the future! What you want to do is to distill the information — these 200 numbers — into something concise.

What might we express about these 200 numbers that would be of interest? The most obvious thing to do is to calculate the average or mean value so we know how much the "typical eighth grader" in the school weighs. It would also be useful to express how much this number varies; after all, eighth graders come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes! In reality, we can probably reduce this set of 200 weights into at most four or five numbers that give us a firm comprehension of the data set.