In describing the work of the nineteenth-century statistician Quetelet, Porter (1986)<br>suggested that his major contribution was in:<br><br>...persuading some illustrious successors of the advantage that could be gained in certain cases by turning attention away from the concrete causes of individual phenomena and concentrating instead on the statistical information presented by the larger whole (pg. 55).<br><br>This observation describes the essence of a statistical perspective - attending to features of aggregates as opposed to features of individuals. In attending to where a collection of values is entered and how those values are distributed, statistics deals for the most part with features belonging not to any of the individual elements, but to the aggregate which they comprise. While statistical assertions such as "50% of marriages in the U.S. result in divorce" or "the life expectancy of women born in the U.S. is 78.3 years" might be used to make individual forecasts, they are more typically interpreted as group tendencies or propensities. In this article, we raise the possibility that some of the difficulty people have in formulating and interpreting statistical arguments results from their not having adopted such a perspective, and that they make sense of statistics by interpreting them using more familiar, but inappropriate, comparison schemes.
- Prof Dev