Definition of Statistics

Statistics, like many other sciences, is a developing discipline; it is not static. It has gradually developed during the last few centuries. Throughout history it has been defined in different manners. Some definitions from the past seem very strange today, but those definitions had their place in their own time. Defining a subject has always been a difficult task. A good definition from today may be discarded in the future. It is difficult to define statistics, and some of the definitions are discussed here.

The kings and rulers in ancient times were interested in their manpower. They conducted censuses of populations to gather data. They used this information to calculate their strength and ability for war. In those days, statistics was defined as:

“The science of kings, political and science of statecraft.”

A.L. Bowley defined statistics as:

“Statistics is the science of counting.”

This definition places the emphasis on counting only, and that common man considers statistics as nothing but counting. This used to be the situation a very long time ago; statistics today is not mere counting of people, counting of animals, counting of trees and counting of fighting forces. It has now developed into a rich method of data analysis and interpretation.


A.L. Bowley has also defined statistics as:

“The science of averages.”

This definition is very simple but it covers only some areas of statistics. Averages are very simple and important in statistics. Experts are interested in average deaths rates, average birth rates, average increases in population, average increases in per capita income, average increases in standard of living and cost of living, average development rates, average inflation rates, average production of rice per acre, average literacy rates and many other averages from different fields of practical life. But statistics is not limited to averages only; there are many other statistical tools like measures of variation, measures of correlation, measures of independence, etc. Thus, this definition is weak and incomplete and is no longer applicable.


Prof. Boddington has defined statistics as:

“The science of estimate and probabilities.”

This definition covers a major part of statistics, and is close to modern statistics. But it is not complete because it stresses only probability. There are some areas of statistics in which probability is not used.

A definition according to W.I. King is:

“The science of statistics is the method of judging collection, natural or social phenomena from the results obtained from the analysis or enumeration or collection of estimates.”

This definition is close to modern statistics, but it does not cover the entire scope of modern statistics.

Secrist has given a detailed definition of statistics in the plural sense and can be found in the previous post. He has not given any importance to statistics in the singular sense.

Statistics both in the singular and the plural sense have been combined in the following definition which is accepted as the modern definition of statistics:

“Statistics are the numerical statement of facts capable of analysis and interpretation and the science of statistics is the study of the principles and the methods applied in collecting, presenting, analysis and interpreting the numerical data in any field of inquiry.”