Statisticians use mathematical theories to collect and interpret information. This information is used to help various agencies, industries, and researchers determine the best ways to produce results in their work. There are approximately 19,000 statisticians in the United States, employed in a wide variety of work fields, including government, industry, and scientific research.
Statisticians Job Description
Statisticians use their knowledge of mathematics and statistical theory to collect and interpret information. They determine whether data are reliable and useful and search for facts that will help solve scientific questions.
Most statisticians work in one of three kinds of jobs: They may teach and do research at a large university, they may work in a government agency (such as the U.S. Census Bureau), or they may work in a business or industry. A few statisticians work in private consulting agencies and sell their services to industrial or government organizations. Other statisticians work in well-known public opinion research organizations. Their studies help us understand what groups of people think about major issues of the day or products on the market.
There are two major areas of statistics: mathematical statistics and applied statistics. Mathematical statisticians are primarily theoreticians. They develop and test new statistical methods and theories and devise new ways in which these methods can be applied. They also work on improving existing methods and formulas.
Applied statisticians apply existing theories or known formulas to make new predictions or discoveries. They may forecast population growth or economic conditions, estimate crop yield, predict and evaluate the result of a marketing program, or help engineers and scientists determine the best design for a jet airline.
In some cases, statisticians actually go out and gather the data to be analyzed. Usually, however, they receive data from individuals trained especially in research-gathering techniques. In the U.S. Census Bureau, for example, statisticians work with material that has been compiled by thousands of census takers. Once the census takers have gathered the data, they turn the information over to statisticians for organization, analysis, and conclusions or recommendations.
Statisticians are employed in many sectors of society. One of the largest employers of statisticians is the government, because many government operations depend on detailed estimates of activities. Government data on consumer prices, population trends, and employment patterns, for example, can affect public policy and social programs.
Statistical models and methods are also necessary for all types of scientific research. For example, a geoscientist estimating earthquake risks or ecologists measuring water quality both use statistical methods to determine the validity of their results. In business and industry, statistical theories are used to figure out how to streamline operations, optimize resources, and, as a result, generate higher profits. For instance, statisticians may predict demand for a product, check the quality of manufactured items, or manage investments.
The insurance industry also uses statisticians to calculate fair and competitive insurance rates and to forecast the risk of underwriting activities. Ben Lamb is a statistician for Grain Dealers Mutual Insurance in Indianapolis. When asked to sum up his job, he says, “I get data into the computers, get data back out, and send out reports.” The data he puts into the computer include the specific details of policies signed, insurance premiums paid, and insurance claims made.
Once this information is in the computer, it is plugged into statistical formulas and used to generate reports. “We make detailed reports to our own management,” Lamb says. “We also file required reports with the National Insurance Services Office.” This national office compiles insurance data from all over the nation and uses the information to generate reports that are then sent to the insurance commissioners of the various states.
Lamb says that his office collects data and runs reports at the end of every workday, as well as once a month. “We have a daily flow of work,” he says. “The information comes in during the day, and we process it to get it ready for that night.” Processing the information may mean editing to ensure that it is correct, or “coding” it, that is, assigning short number or letter codes to the information so that the computer can understand and manipulate the data.