Issue 18 | June 2013

Commercially-grown plants

Number Crunching

Statistics can seem daunting, but don’t panic! This issue shows how we can use maths to understand more about the world around us. Join us as we explore how to use stats to summarise data, see whether our figures are significant and put our findings into context, so we can make decisions based on evidence rather than opinion.

Download the PDF, browse through the individual articles, check out our multimedia content and consider our lesson ideas. We’ve also picked out content from other issues that we think is especially relevant.

How science works

Beating bias

How researchers try to reduce bias

The null hypothesis

Why scientists need to show the null hypothesis is false to show a scientific hypothesis is true

Sturdy studies

How to recognise good research

Look at the evidence

Why evidence is central to science

Grand designs

Why the design of your experiment will depend on the question you’re asking

Types of medical study

Find out about the different types of study and analysis used in medical research

Making sense of stats

Just about average

Find out about the different types of average

Defining data

Find out about the different ways researchers define data

Graphically thinking

Using graphs and diagrams to show data

A number of significance

Why significance has a special meaning in stats

What is normal?

Many datasets about everyday biological examples follow a normal distribution

Choose your method

Explore different statistical tests

Jumping to conclusions

Why it’s important to take care with correlation

Risky business

Take a chance

Nobody lives a risk-free life

Living the (micro) life

Micromorts allow us to quantify the risk of different life events

Life-changing findings?

Why people respond to risk in different ways

Are you absolutely sure?

Why risk should be reported responsibly

Calculate your odds

Why our gut reactions to probability aren’t always correct

Stats Q&A

Lottery numbers

Understanding the stats: you can’t increase your chance of winning the Lottery, but you might increase the amount you win

Absolute truth

Understanding the stats: ‘truth’ in science

Natural causes: carrot juice

Understanding the stats: how bias can skew reports of medical ‘successes’

Driving discounts

Understanding the stats: women drivers and insurance discounts

Smoking gun

Understanding the stats: why you can’t get meaningful data from a small sample size

Probably positive

Understanding the stats: no medical test is 100 per cent accurate

When stats go bad

Take care with your wording

“Just 100 cod left in North Sea” – why it’s important to be precise with your vocabulary

Take care with your calculations

“Chance of cot deaths in brothers ‘1 in 73 million'” – how the misuse of statistics in court can have profound consequences

Take care with your claims

“Lifescan, like an MOT for your body” – why claims in adverts can be misleading

Take care with your sample

“Recommended by 93% of Red readers” – why the way data is collected matters

Why risk should be reported responsibly

Is it ever morally acceptable to ‘spin’ information about risk to try to influence people’s behaviour?

Practical help

Video: Chi-squared test

Our video investigates what types of fingerprints people have

Different statistical tests

Why the type of data you’re dealing with will determine the best statistical test to use

Representing data visually

Links to websites with useful information, guides and videos on different ways to represent data visually

Real Voices interviews

Real Voices interview: Vicky Peterkin

Vicky Peterkin is a senior biostatistician at a pharmaceutical company

Real Voices interview: Dr David Colthurst

Dr David Colthurst is a biology teacher leading a project to do scientific research in schools

Real Voices interview: Dr Anthony Underwood

Dr Anthony Underwood is a bioinformatician at Public Health England

Activities and lesson ideas

Video: Chi-squared test

Our video investigates what types of fingerprints people have

Lesson ideas for ‘Big Picture: Number Crunching’

Suggestions for how to use this issue of ‘Big Picture’ in your classroom

Ideas for further research

Suggestions for how students doing the Extended Project Qualification can take statistics to the next level

Further resources and activities on statistics in science

The Wellcome Trust has funded other organisations that produce activities and resources to engage and educate young people about using and understanding data

Fast Facts

Each issue of 'Big Picture' comes with a sprinkling of Fast Facts, fascinating snippets of information on the topic covered.

Browse through all of our Fast Facts indexed by topic