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Parameters and Statistics [1]

Statisticians talk about statistics in relation to parameters. A parameter is a numeric quantity, usually unknown, that describes a certain population characteristic. For example, the population mean is a parameter that is often used to indicate the average value of a quantity. Other, more concrete examples are:

The true average height of adult human males. The number of individuals in Mexico that have paid a bribe to a police officer. The median income in Sierra Leone.

Parameters are often estimated since their value is generally unknown, especially when the population is large enough that it is impossible or impractical to obtain measurements for all people. For example, it would be impossible to line up all adult human males on the planet and obtain their heights with perfect measurement, therefore, the true mean height of adult human males can only be estimated, not known. Parameters are normally represented by Greek letters. The most common parameters are the population mean and 2 variance, represented by the Greek letters and , respectively. A statistic is a quantity, calculated from a sample of data, used to estimate a parameter. For example, the average of the data in a sample is used to give information about the overall average in the population from which that sample was drawn. Other examples include:

The average height of a random sample of 1,000 adult human males. The percentage of individuals in a random sample of 10,000 adults in Mexico that have paid a bribe to a police officer, multiplied by the size of the adult population in Mexico. The median income of a random sample of 1,000

adults in Sierra Leone. It is possible to draw more than one sample from the same population, and each sample will have its own value for any statistic used to estimate a particular parameter. For example, the mean of the data in a sample is used to give information about the overall mean in the population from which that sample was drawn. But the sample means for two independent samples, drawn from the same population, will not necessarily be equal. Each sample mean is still an estimate of the underlying population mean. Such possible variations amoung estimates from different samples is called sampling error. Statistics are usually represented by Latin letters with other symbols. The sample mean and variance, two of the most common statistics derived from samples, are denoted by the symbols and s , respectively.
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1. This definition based on entries found at www.cas.lancs.ac.uk/glossary_v1.1/basicdef.html and http://library.thinkquest.org/10030/3smodpas.htm.