Statistics as language
A language is a tool for communicating thoughts, ideas and knowledge. The same is true for statistics. Both language and statistics have a technical grammar. While linguists talk of subjects, predicates and cases, statisticians talk of standard deviations, p-values and regression coefficients. Both language and statistics have alphabets and punctuation. Where languages use letters and characters, statistics is based on mathematical notation, with mathematical formulas for mean, standard deviation and regression equations.
To master a language, you need to gain an understanding of a number of concepts. The same is true for statistics. A noun is a word for a thing. A standard deviation is a number for variation. The subject of a sentence is the doer. And the odds is the probability of something happening divided by the probability of it not happening.
For both language and statistics, context is key. Knowledge of metre and rhyme is for the most part of little relevance – or interest – until this knowledge is put into context by a specific poem, for example where the author uses them as a means to evoke the sorrow of losing a child. Knowledge of how the SPSS software package is used to calculate a regression coefficient has little clinical relevance before it is put into context by a specific research project and is used to say that the risk of stillbirth increases after 42 weeks of pregnancy.
Both language and statistics can be used to tell important stories about the world we live in. Language can use words to draw the reader into stories of the known and the unknown, to convey emotions and understanding. Similarly, numbers can summarise a collection of individual patient histories so well that the clinical insight becomes obvious.