1 Why is statistics such a fascinating subject?

In the real world, little is certain. Almost everything that happens is influenced, to a greater or lesser degree, by chance. As we shall explain in this chapter, statistics is our best guide for understanding the behaviour of chance events that are, in some way, measurable. No other field of knowledge is as vital for the purpose. This is quite a remarkable truth and, statisticians will agree, one source of the subject’s fascination.

You may know the saying: data are not information and information is not knowledge. This is a useful reminder! Even more useful is the insight that it is statistical methods that play the major role in turning data into information and information into knowledge.

In a world of heavily promoted commercial and political claims, a familiarity with statistical thinking can bring enormous personal and social benefits. It can help everyone to judge better what claims are trustworthy, and so become more competent and wiser as citizens, as consumers and as voters. In short, it can make ours not only a more numerate, but also a more accurately informed, society. This is an ideal we shall return to in CHAPTER 3.

Chance events are studied in the physical, biological and social sciences, in architecture and engineering, in medicine and law, in finance and marketing, and in history and politics. In all these fields and more, statistics has well‐established credentials. To use John Tukey’s charming expression, ...

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