Sunday, January 13, 2013

Statistics is not Mathematics

Rafael Irrizarry posted a thoughtful argument on why work focused on Statistics should live within it's own department, separate from a Division of Mathematical Sciences in the National Science Foundation, where Statistics currently falls under. 
Statistics is analogous to other disciplines that use mathematics as a fundamental language, like Physics, Engineering, and Computer Science. But like those disciplines, Statistics contributes separate and fundamental scientific knowledge. While the field of applied mathematics tries to explain the world with deterministic equations, Statistics takes a dramatically different approach. In highly complex systems, such as the weather, Mathematicians battle LaPlace’s demon and struggle to explain nature using mathematics derived from first principles. Statisticians accept  that deterministic approaches are not always useful and instead develop and rely on random models. These two approaches are both important as demonstrated by the improvements in meteorological predictions  achieved once data-driven statistical models were used to compliment deterministic mathematical models.
Given the huge importance of statistics in genome sciences and other big data sciences, new tools need to be created by statisticians wholly dedicated to solving problems created by new technologies in the biosciences.