What is Biostatistics?

David White

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 the use of statistics procedures and analysis in the study and practice of biology.
Biostatistics is the use of statistics procedures and analysis in the study and practice of biology.

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.

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Discussion Comments


Why and where do we use biotastistics in zoology?


@Suntan12 - I agree. I think that biostatistics research really helps to tells us how diseases may be transmitted as well. I know that in the eighties there was a lot of talk about A.I.D.S. and there was a lot of public misconception about how the disease was spread.

I think because of a lot of the biostatistics research has been made available to the public since then it has allowed us to understand that the disease could only be spread through exchange of bodily fluids or though a tainted blood transfusion, or an infected needle.

The disease could not be transmitted through casual contact or even being in the same room with someone infected. I know a lot of people were discriminated against back then because people really did not know back then as much as we now know about the disease today.


I think that a biostatistics career would be fascinating. Advances like genetic testing that determine the likelihood of a genetic predisposition to be passed down a generation is important to understand.

Diseases like cancer can be traced this way. It may be initially disturbing to hear that you many have a higher percentage of developing a disease like this but at least with this information you can act upon it and change your life to lessen the opportunity of this happening.

I saw a case on television of a woman that had a double mastectomy because her mother and sister developed breast cancer and died of the disease.

She got some genetic testing and the chances were very high for her to develop the condition. Although she was not yet diagnosed with the disease she had a double mastectomy as a precaution.

At least this lady was able to change her circumstances for the better and have a chance at not even developing the disease because of the action that she took. I think that genetics testing is great and hopefully scientists can develop cures for many of these dreadful diseases in the future.

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