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What is Biostatistics?

Biostatistics is the branch of statistics responsible for the proper interpretation of scientific data generated in the biology, public health and other health sciences (i.e., the biomedical sciences).  In these sciences, subjects (patients, mice, cells, etc.) exhibit considerable variation in their response to stimuli. This variation may be due to different treatments or it may be due to chance, measurement error,  or other characteristics of the individual subjects. Biostatistics is particularly concerned with disentangling  these different sources of variation. It seeks to distinguish between correlation and causation, and to make valid inferences from known samples about the populations from which they were drawn. (For example, do the results of treating patients with two therapies justify the conclusion that one treatment is better than the other?)  Biostatisticians regularly engage in interdisciplinary collaborations and advance their discipline through pursuit of methodological development of statistical methods for biomedical applications. Biostatistics is a broad discipline encompassing the application of statistical theory to real-world problems, the practice of designing and conducting biomedical experiments and clinical trials (experiments with human subjects), the study of related computational algorithms and display of data, and the development of mathematical statistical theory. Biostatistics is integral to the advance of knowledge in biology, health policy, clinical medicine, public health policy, health economics, proteomics, genomics, and other disciplines. At Vanderbilt, biostatisticians facilitate biomedical research by providing methodological expertise and by closely collaborating with scientists and physician researchers.

Biostatisticians are specialists in the evaluation of data as scientific evidence. They understand the generic construct of data and they provide the mathematical framework that transcends the scientific context to generalize the findings. Their expertise includes the design and conduct of experiments, the mode and manner in which data are collected, the analysis of data, and the interpretation of results. Meaningful generalization of experimental results requires the application of an appropriate mathematical framework for the scientific context. The validity of research results depends on this application and the reproducibility of the experimental methods. Biostatisticians use mathematics to enhance science and bridge the gap between theory and practice.

Department of Biostatistics  |  Vanderbilt School of Medicine, 2525 West End Avenue, Suite 11000, Nashville, TN 37203  |  615-322-2001  |  615-343-4924 (fax)
Cancer Biostatistics Division  |  571 Preston Research Building, Nashville, TN 37232-6848 (Campus Mail: 571 PRB 6848)  |  615-936-2572 |  615-936-2602 (fax) 
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