Biostatistics is, in effect, two words — and two fields of study — combined. The bio part involves biology, the study of living things. The statistics part involves the accumulation, tracking, analysis, and application of data. Biostatistics is the use of statistics procedures and analysis in the study and practice of biology. As such, it has many real-world and scientific applications.
Biostatistics is routinely used to drive biology experiments. Data is gathered and analyzed before, during, and after a biology experiment, with the intent to come to some form of logical conclusion about what might not be exactly empirical results. On the other hand, a biostatistics experiment can be entirely mathematical; for example, the measurement of an animal’s temperature at various times of the day, and the subsequent tracking of other variables involved in those temperature measurements, can be expressed in wholly numerical terms.
Speaking of measurements, it’s time for some terms. A population is a set of measurements. In the example above, the degree measurements of the animal’s temperature — taken as a whole — make up the population. One or a few of those measurements evaluated separately from the rest of the population make up a sample.
Measurements and other uses of biostatistics don’t always involve such mundane things. Biostatistics is commonly used in large-scale efforts, such as drug testing and environmental model-building. Especially in the case of trials for new pharmaceuticals, biostatistics is heavily relied upon to track and interpret data and to make recommendations based on those interpretations.
Another vital use of biostatistics is in evaluating the spread of a disease. Scientists conduct tests on the people who have contracted a disease — the sample — and compare their DNA, life history, and social conditions to others who live in the same area — the rest of the population — in order to see why some people got the disease and others did not. In this way, biostatistics can help solve certain environmental or biological mysteries. A related use of biostatistics is in genetic research. Samples, populations, experiments, research — all are done in the name of pursuing cures for deadly diseases, causes for genetic malconditions, and predictions of eventualities.
Biostatistics is also used in modeling and hypothesizing. Given a set of data, scientists combine biostatistics and probability theory in order to determine the likelihood of diseases to hit populations, drugs to cure those diseases, and people’s reaction to those drugs. In this way, biostatistics promises to be as good at predicting the future as it is at analyzing the past.