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3: Math Blast- An Overview of Essential Mathematics Used in Science

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    Chapter Hook

    Are wildfires getting more destructive and deadly than ever? It is difficult to know for sure without diving into recent and historical fire data. Currently, available data supports that wildfires are worse on both counts. As such, policy makers can utilize this knowledge to create measures to better protect lives and property. Mathematics, especially statistics, is the keystone to successful application and inquiry of the scientific method. In some cases, it also provides a high level of confidence that actions taken will not likely be a waste of time or money.

                                                                           A wildfire in a California forest.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{a}\) A wildfire in a California forest. Image by Noah Berger (Public domain)

    What is mathematics and statistics?

    Mathematics is the abstract science of numbers, quantity and space. Mathematics may be studied in its own right (pure mathematics), or as it is applied to scientific disciplines such as (applied mathematics).

    Statistics is a mathematical body of science that pertains to the collection, analysis, interpretation or explanation, and presentation of data, or as a branch of mathematics. 

    How does mathematics and statistics integrate into the scientific method?

    Mathematics and statistics are vital for scientific inquiry. It is an especially imperative tool for disciplines that are inherently variable and require extensive collection of data. Ideally scientists would like to collect data from every individual in the population of interest, but this is rarely possible.  As a result, scientists often must use data collected from a representative sample of individuals to draw inferences about basic biological phenomena for a population.  This is where mathematics and statistics steps into the party.

    What are the most important functions of statistics?

    Some of the most important functions of statistics include:

    •        Description and summary of basic findings (Descriptive statistics).
    •        Testing hypotheses regarding relationships between variables so the cause and effect can begin to be understood (Inferential statistics).
    •        Presenting findings in an easily understood manner – misunderstandings keep science from moving forward!


    Rachel Schleiger (CC-BY-NC)