In the beginning, it may be noted that the word ‘statistics’ is used rather curiously in two senses plural and singular. In the plural sense, it refers to a set of figures or data. In the singular sense, statistics refers to the whole body of tools that are used to collect data, organise and interpret them and, finally, to draw conclusions from them. It should be noted that both the aspects of statistics are important if the quantitative data are to serve their purpose. If statistics, as a subject, is inadequate and consists of poor methodology, we could not know the right procedure to extract from the data the information they contain. Similarly, if our data are defective or that they are inadequate or inaccurate, we could not reach the right conclusions even though our subject is well developed.
A.L. Bowley has defined statistics as: (i) statistics is the science of counting, (ii) Statistics may rightly be called the science of averages, and (iii) statistics is the science of measurement of social organism regarded as a whole in all its mani- festations. Boddington defined as: Statistics is the science of estimates and probabilities. Further, W.I. King has defined Statistics in a wider context, the science of Statistics is the method of judging collective, natural or social phenomena from the results obtained by the analysis or enumeration or collection of estimates.
Seligman explored that statistics is a science that deals with the methods of collecting, classifying, presenting, comparing and interpreting numerical data collected to throw some light on any sphere of enquiry. Spiegal defines statistics highlighting its role in decision-making particularly under uncertainty, as follows: statistics is concerned with scientific method for collecting, organising, summa rising, presenting and analyzing data as well as drawing valid conclusions and making reasonable decisions on the basis of such analysis. According to Prof. Horace Secrist, Statistics is the aggregate of facts, affected to a marked extent by multiplicity of causes, numerically expressed, enumerated or estimated according to reasonable standards of accuracy, collected in a systematic manner for a pre-determined purpose, and placed in relation to each other.
From the above definitions, we can highlight the major characteristics of statistics as follows:
i. Statistics are the aggregates of facts. It means a single figure is not statistics.
For example, national income of a country for a single year is not statistics but the same for two or more years is statistics.
ii. Statistics are affected by a number of factors. For example, sale of a product depends on a number of factors such as its price, quality, competition, the income of the consumers, and so on.
iii. Statistics must be reasonably accurate. Wrong figures, if analysed, will lead to erroneous conclusions. Hence, it is necessary that conclusions must be based on accurate figures.
iv. Statistics must be collected in a systematic manner. If data are collected in a haphazard manner, they will not be reliable and will lead to misleading conclusions.
v. Collected in a systematic manner for a pre-determined purpose
vi. Lastly, Statistics should be placed in relation to each other. If one collects data unrelated to each other, then such data will be confusing and will not lead to any logical conclusions. Data should be comparable over time and over space.