If ever there is a subject that had gained notoriety over the years dyue to its difficulty, it is mathematics. Yet, mathematics is used in our daily transactions in a way that other subjects are not. Maths is cross-cultural and its rules determine the fairness or unfairness of any operation. Hence, being critical in decision-making when it comes to any record-keeping.
But is it really necessary when one wants to do statistics in a social science discipline? You may wonder, seeing that maths content may be minimal in some courses. In fact, with the alternative of using qualitative research approaches, it may seem as if you can get away without maths at all — except that you cannot graduate unless you pass quantitative research or methods!
The Logic of Foundational Courses
To put this discussion into its proper perspective, let us begin by looking at those elementary subjects, some of which we may not have cared to think of after completing secondary education.
However, subjects such as English and maths have a way of making themselves relevant even if one does not care:
- Everyday purchases we make involve maths;
- A majority of text we read today is in English.
- So one can choose to forget all about some other subject, but not all about maths or English.
This all explains why English may be considered a prerequisite for entry into higher education. It is a foundational requirement for participating into any college or university activity–be it instruction during the lecture, business or student life in general.
But when it comes to the demands of college faculties and departments, they have additional expectations. They know that you already passed English (hence your admission into the university), so now they are concerned with their own elementary subject such as statistics or maths.
This is where statistics comes in
To understand statistics, let us look at generally what is the purpose of any university degree. There could be a number of reasons for these degrees, but as I see it, any programme at a higher education level is there to help its students develop into researchers.
So a university could be seen as a place where students are taught to research. Research is essential in knowledge generation and development of a society.
At the core of research is analysing data: and this is where statistics comes in.
This means that anyone who wishes to carry out research must have the right tools to do so. These tools include one’s ability to analyse data.
Yet you cannot analyse data unless you do it with statistics.
Statistics is a branch of mathematics that is concerned with collection, analysis and interpretation of data. The main purpose being to use whichever data is collected as a sample to make inferences (conclusions) about the population from which that sample had been collected from.
The special rules applied in doing so, and as a way to ensure that conclusions made from such an analysis are not faulty, statistics has some rules that have to be obeyed from sampling to testing any hypothesis a researcher may have. The rules applied are mathematical rules.
So statistics is just maths
From this description, it becomes clear that statistics is just maths. Period. The question should not be whether it is necessary to do maths in order to understand statistics, but should be: What is the minimum level of maths one has to know in order to do statistics?
Asking whether maths is really necessary in doing statistics is just like asking whether it is necessary that one has to speak English before reading an English writing. In that sense, English is only a medium that makes it possible for you to follow whichever writing you are reading written in English.
Statistics makes its communication using maths symbols:
- Additions, subtractions, multiplications and divisions are the bread-and-butter material of statistics;
- A shorthand for addition, the summation symbol ($\sum$) is maths at its core;
- Exponents and roots could be understood as shorthand for certain repetitions. In this case, exponents (raising a number to a given value) repeats multiplication that many times, while roots work in the opposite direction for division.
What if your Maths is rusty?
Then this is where you may need to do some basic maths. So after appreciating the importance of maths, what you have to do is just work on a few topics such as
- Maths operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division). In fact, this is the stuff you normally engage with when doing your shopping, so no hard work there.
- Radicals and exponents.
- Algebra: This is also another stuff you normally deal with on a daily basis. Think of the following:
- Formulas of anything presupposes knowledge of algebra.
- Solving puzzles.
- Chess literature.
- Data organisation in tables for display. This to some extent is related to matrix algebra.
For the most part, however, statistics is concerned with how you should interpret any collected data. This in turn will guide you in choosing any test you have to use which is appropriate for your situation.
So in conclusion, statistics is just maths. Even though some textbooks may claim that it is not necessary to know maths, yet in the process of learning statistics you will be engaging in a rewarding maths exercise. What they mean is that, prior to you taking statistics, your knowledge of maths or lack thereof is not going to be a hindrance to your statistics education. The author will introduce you to appropriate maths concepts as you go.
You do not have to despair. This is because the maths that is done in statistics is there to help you better understand your data and its possibility of being generalised to a wide population.