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Three men standing
Dr Neil Gordon (The Defence Science and Technology Group), Dr Ross Darnell (CSIRO), USQ Professor (Statistics) Professor Shahjahan Khan.
Statistics is more than just figures and formulas - it’s a vital source for decision making, impacting almost every aspect of modern society.

The scope of statistics’ importance was on show at the University of Southern Queensland (USQ) this week, with three presenters speaking on the real-life applications of statistical analysis.

Dr Neil Gordon from Australia's Department of Defence, The Defence Science and Technology Group, captured the audience’s attention as he discussed how statistics were used in the search for missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370.

In 2014, MH370 was reported missing after Air Traffic Control lost contact with the plane and its 239 passengers and crew during a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

Dr Gordon is part of the team that extrapolated metadata from the plane’s on-board communications system. Using Bayesian statistical estimation methods, a probability distribution of MH370 flight paths was created which has defined the search zone in the southern Indian Ocean.

Event attendees were also given an update on Big Data – what is it, how big is big, the future of information collection and analysis, and the limitations of empirical evidence.

CSIRO Principal Research Scientist Dr Ross Darnell spoke about the increasingly large amount of data, often very complex, becoming available to scientists.

Commenting on how making honest predictions from this data is not necessarily determined by quantity, Dr Darnell said that even large datasets can be generated with limitations determining quality.

The event was in celebration of World Statistics Say, as declared by the UN General Assembly with the theme “Better Data. Better Life”.

USQ Professor (Statistics) Professor Shahjahan Khan also addressed the audience, introducing the other presenters and emphasising the importance of statistics.

“Statistics are everywhere - business, health, environment, commerce, infrastructure, policy, tourism and so much more,” he said.

“For example, consider the recently released Millennium Development Goals (MDG) to end poverty by 2015. That was eight goals, each measured by statistics.

“Statistics are used to prove things, assess effects, measure growth, forecast yields, create awareness of issues, poll opinion, and determine needs.

“It is the basis for modern decision making and statistical methods continue to improve the quality of information and subsequent decisions.”

For more about studying statistics are USQ, visit www.usq.edu.au/study/degrees/sciences/mathematics-and-statistics.