IMPROVING OUR HEALTH AND QUALITY OF LIFE

Many statisticians work in the health care industry. Pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies strive to discover new drugs and treatments to control or cure diseases and improve the quality of our lives. These companies carry out scientifically designed experiments called clinical trials to determine whether a new drug is safe and effective.

The design of a clinical trial is very important because a poorly designed study could produce misleading results. For example, suppose that a new drug (call it Drug X) is compared to an existing drug (Drug S) to determine whether it works better in treating a medical condition. If Drug X is given only to men aged 25-30 and Drug S is given only to women aged 50-55, then any differences observed between the two drugs might actually be caused by the differences in the gender and age of the two study groups.

Because different people may react differently to medicines, sometimes two drugs being compared will be given at different times to the same person. Statisticians refer to this approach as blocking. In other studies, each person may be given only one of the two drugs using a random selection procedure, such as flipping a coin (heads = Drug X, tails = Drug S). Then, the people who receive Drug X should not be too different in terms of age and gender from the people who receive Drug S. Statisticians refer to this approach as randomization. Blocking and randomization are widely used tools in scientific experiments.

Statistics majors learn about these tools and about various methods for collecting and analyzing data in experiments, sample surveys, and observational studies. Those students who pursue an Emphasis in Biostatistics also take courses in biology, ecology, or health science that help to prepare them to do statistical work in these areas of application.