Biostatistics…why?

Biostatistics as a science is a subdiscipline of Statistics which studies the patterns behind biological processes (e.g., the spread of a disease). Scientists use different methods – from standard statistical methods to complex models – to analyze huge data sets so that researchers can obtain an answer to these biological enigmas. But…Biostatistics….why? This is the question one should address when starting to work in this field. Biostatisticians are often asked to justify why they choose this area to start or even improve their professional career.

Data analysis has always been performed. Before the 19th century, most scientists with a basic knowledge in Statistics were able to carry out simple calculus to validate their daily scientific experiments. The starting point of modern Biostatistics applications was set up in the past two centuries, with Charles Darwin and Francis Galton, among others. Besides, the latter one was the cofounder of the well-known statistical journal Biometrika. In the last decades, the complexity of scientific research studies (design, studied sample…) and the development of technology have grown enormously. This has led to the development of complicate statistical methods – sometimes ad hoc – and, consequently, to the requirement of specific skills for performing them: apart from Statistics, knowledge in medical topics and computer programming is highly recommended.

There are several papers which remark the importance of a biostatistician in biomedical sciences (e.g., Bross (1974); Donald W. Marquardt (1987), Greenhouse S. (2003); María Jesús Bayarri et al. (2012)). It is clearly revealed that the role of a data analyst – we are often called this way, and I have to admit I somehow dislike this term – is not as simple as the one of a shoe store clerk: I mean, we cannot sit and wait for requests coming from clinicians or other researchers who need to develop multiple regression analyses (most times) to obtain results. A statistician must be ambitious, have adventures with data, “play” with them and search for better statistical strategies than the current ones. There is always place for improvement. We are seen as data-machines/compilers looking for statistical significance (p<0.05) and we should show to other professionals that our daily work: (a) is not based on “significance”; (b) may influence resulting policy choices made by governments or other important organizations. In other words, the general public should perceive that our role is much more than pressing a button and getting the result in 5 minutes. Our function is to challenge and influence the community in order to hopefully make the society a better one. Fortunately, important biomedical journals such as Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) have begun to give more relevancy to the complexity of the statistical procedure. It is the first step.

Biostatistics in Spain

Compared to other countries, Biostatistics could be considered as an emerging discipline in Spain. Although there is still much work to do, it is remarkable that it has been perceived an increasing demand for biostatisticians in the scientific community. Due to the new rising areas such as Genomics, spatial Statistics or Functional Data Analysis, several multidisciplinary research groups have been set up with at least a biostatistician being part of it. The National Biostatistics Network BIOSTATNET is a proof for this. This network, created in 2010, is composed of 8 nodes from different regions of Spain aiming to coordinate and promote research in Biostatistics.

In my opinion, I think I have given many reasons for choosing Biostatistics as a profession. It is a field where you can be linked to people coming from different areas which allows you to learn about many more topics than expected. In a few words, Biostatistics grips you!

“Statistical thinking will one day be as necessary for efficient citizenship

as the ability to read and write”

Herbert George Wells

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