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Statistics LibreTexts

8.2: What Is a Model?

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  • In the physical world, “models” are generally simplifications of things in the real world that nonetheless convey the essence of the thing being modeled. A model of a building conveys the structure of the building while being small and light enough to pick up with one’s hands; a model of a cell in biology is much larger than the actual thing, but again conveys the major parts of the cell and their relationships.

    In statistics, a model is meant to provide a similarly condensed description, but for data rather than for a physical structure. Like physical models, a statistical model is generally much simpler than the data being described; it is meant to capture the structure of the data as simply as possible. In both cases, we realize that the model is a convenient fiction that necessarily glosses over some of the details of the actual thing being modeled. As the statistician George Box famously said: “All models are wrong but some are useful.”

    The basic structure of a statistical model is:

    data=model+error data = model + error

    This expresses the idea that the data can be described by a statistical model, which describes what we expect to occur in the data, along with the difference between the model and the data, which we refer to as the error.