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8.3: Data, Sampling, and Variation in Data and Sampling

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    Data may come from a population or from a sample. Small letters like \(x\) or \(y\) generally are used to represent data values. Most data can be put into the following categories:

    • Qualitative
    • Quantitative

    Qualitative data are the result of categorizing or describing attributes of a population. Hair color, blood type, ethnic group, the car a person drives, and the street a person lives on are examples of qualitative data. Qualitative data are generally described by words or letters. For instance, hair color might be black, dark brown, light brown, blonde, gray, or red. Blood type might be AB+, O-, or B+. Researchers often prefer to use quantitative data over qualitative data because it lends itself more easily to mathematical analysis. For example, it does not make sense to find an average hair color or blood type.

    Quantitative data are always numbers. Quantitative data are the result of counting or measuring attributes of a population. Amount of money, pulse rate, weight, number of people living in your town, and number of students who take statistics are examples of quantitative data. Quantitative data may be either discrete or continuous.

    All data that are the result of counting are called quantitative discrete data. These data take on only certain numerical values. If you count the number of phone calls you receive for each day of the week, you might get values such as zero, one, two, or three.

    All data that are the result of measuring are quantitative continuous data assuming that we can measure accurately. Measuring angles in radians might result in such numbers as \(\frac{\pi}{6}\), \(\frac{\pi}{3}\), \(\frac{\pi}{2}\), \(\pi\), \(\frac{3\pi}{4}\), and so on. If you and your friends carry backpacks with books in them to school, the numbers of books in the backpacks are discrete data and the weights of the backpacks are continuous data.

    Sample of Quantitative Discrete Data

    The data are the number of books students carry in their backpacks. You sample five students. Two students carry three books, one student carries four books, one student carries two books, and one student carries one book. The numbers of books (three, four, two, and one) are the quantitative discrete data.

    Exercise \(\PageIndex{1}\)

    The data are the number of machines in a gym. You sample five gyms. One gym has 12 machines, one gym has 15 machines, one gym has ten machines, one gym has 22 machines, and the other gym has 20 machines. What type of data is this?


    quantitative discrete data

    Sample of Quantitative Continuous Data

    The data are the weights of backpacks with books in them. You sample the same five students. The weights (in pounds) of their backpacks are 6.2, 7, 6.8, 9.1, 4.3. Notice that backpacks carrying three books can have different weights. Weights are quantitative continuous data because weights are measured.

    Exercise \(\PageIndex{2}\)

    The data are the areas of lawns in square feet. You sample five houses. The areas of the lawns are 144 sq. feet, 160 sq. feet, 190 sq. feet, 180 sq. feet, and 210 sq. feet. What type of data is this?


    quantitative continuous data

    Exercise \(\PageIndex{3}\)

    You go to the supermarket and purchase three cans of soup (19 ounces) tomato bisque, 14.1 ounces lentil, and 19 ounces Italian wedding), two packages of nuts (walnuts and peanuts), four different kinds of vegetable (broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, and carrots), and two desserts (16 ounces Cherry Garcia ice cream and two pounds (32 ounces chocolate chip cookies).

    Name data sets that are quantitative discrete, quantitative continuous, and qualitative.


    One Possible Solution:

    • The three cans of soup, two packages of nuts, four kinds of vegetables and two desserts are quantitative discrete data because you count them.
    • The weights of the soups (19 ounces, 14.1 ounces, 19 ounces) are quantitative continuous data because you measure weights as precisely as possible.
    • Types of soups, nuts, vegetables and desserts are qualitative data because they are categorical.

    Try to identify additional data sets in this example.

    Sample of qualitative data

    The data are the colors of backpacks. Again, you sample the same five students. One student has a red backpack, two students have black backpacks, one student has a green backpack, and one student has a gray backpack. The colors red, black, black, green, and gray are qualitative data.

    Exercise \(\PageIndex{4}\)

    The data are the colors of houses. You sample five houses. The colors of the houses are white, yellow, white, red, and white. What type of data is this?


    qualitative data


    Work collaboratively to determine the correct data type (quantitative or qualitative). Indicate whether quantitative data are continuous or discrete. Hint: Data that are discrete often start with the words "the number of."

    1. the number of pairs of shoes you own
    2. the type of car you drive
    3. where you go on vacation
    4. the distance it is from your home to the nearest grocery store
    5. the number of classes you take per school year.
    6. the tuition for your classes
    7. the type of calculator you use
    8. movie ratings
    9. political party preferences
    10. weights of sumo wrestlers
    11. amount of money (in dollars) won playing poker
    12. number of correct answers on a quiz
    13. peoples’ attitudes toward the government
    14. IQ scores (This may cause some discussion.)

    Items a, e, f, k, and l are quantitative discrete; items d, j, and n are quantitative continuous; items b, c, g, h, i, and m are qualitative.

    Exercise \(\PageIndex{5}\)

    Determine the correct data type (quantitative or qualitative) for the number of cars in a parking lot. Indicate whether quantitative data are continuous or discrete.


    quantitative discrete

    Exercise \(\PageIndex{6}\)

    A statistics professor collects information about the classification of her students as freshmen, sophomores, juniors, or seniors. The data she collects are summarized in the pie chart Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\). What type of data does this graph show?

    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\)


    This pie chart shows the students in each year, which is qualitative data.

    Exercise \(\PageIndex{7}\)

    The registrar at State University keeps records of the number of credit hours students complete each semester. The data he collects are summarized in the histogram. The class boundaries are 10 to less than 13, 13 to less than 16, 16 to less than 19, 19 to less than 22, and 22 to less than 25.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\)

    What type of data does this graph show?


    A histogram is used to display quantitative data: the numbers of credit hours completed. Because students can complete only a whole number of hours (no fractions of hours allowed), this data is quantitative discrete.

    Qualitative Data Discussion

    Below are tables comparing the number of part-time and full-time students at De Anza College and Foothill College enrolled for the spring 2010 quarter. The tables display counts (frequencies) and percentages or proportions (relative frequencies). The percent columns make comparing the same categories in the colleges easier. Displaying percentages along with the numbers is often helpful, but it is particularly important when comparing sets of data that do not have the same totals, such as the total enrollments for both colleges in this example. Notice how much larger the percentage for part-time students at Foothill College is compared to De Anza College.

    De Anza College   Foothill College
    Table \(\PageIndex{1}\): Fall Term 2007 (Census day)
      Number Percent     Number Percent
    Full-time 9,200 40.9%   Full-time 4,059 28.6%
    Part-time 13,296 59.1%   Part-time 10,124 71.4%
    Total 22,496 100%   Total 14,183 100%

    Tables are a good way of organizing and displaying data. But graphs can be even more helpful in understanding the data. There are no strict rules concerning which graphs to use. Two graphs that are used to display qualitative data are pie charts and bar graphs.

    • In a pie chart, categories of data are represented by wedges in a circle and are proportional in size to the percent of individuals in each category.
    • In a bar graph, the length of the bar for each category is proportional to the number or percent of individuals in each category. Bars may be vertical or horizontal.
    • A Pareto chart consists of bars that are sorted into order by category size (largest to smallest).

    Look at Figures \(\PageIndex{3}\) and \(\PageIndex{4}\) and determine which graph (pie or bar) you think displays the comparisons better.

    fig-ch01_patchfile_01.jpg fig-ch01_patchfile_02.jpg
    Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\): Pie Charts

    It is a good idea to look at a variety of graphs to see which is the most helpful in displaying the data. We might make different choices of what we think is the “best” graph depending on the data and the context. Our choice also depends on what we are using the data for.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{4}\): Bar chart

    Percentages That Add to More (or Less) Than 100%

    Sometimes percentages add up to be more than 100% (or less than 100%). In the graph, the percentages add to more than 100% because students can be in more than one category. A bar graph is appropriate to compare the relative size of the categories. A pie chart cannot be used. It also could not be used if the percentages added to less than 100%.

    Characteristic/Category Percent
    Table \(\PageIndex{2}\): De Anza College Spring 2010
    Full-Time Students 40.9%
    Students who intend to transfer to a 4-year educational institution 48.6%
    Students under age 25 61.0%
    TOTAL 150.5%


    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\): Bar chart of data in Table \(\PageIndex{2}\).

    Omitting Categories/Missing Data

    The table displays Ethnicity of Students but is missing the "Other/Unknown" category. This category contains people who did not feel they fit into any of the ethnicity categories or declined to respond. Notice that the frequencies do not add up to the total number of students. In this situation, create a bar graph and not a pie chart.

    Table \(\PageIndex{2}\): Ethnicity of Students at De Anza College Fall Term 2007 (Census Day)
      Frequency Percent
    Asian 8,794 36.1%
    Black 1,412 5.8%
    Filipino 1,298 5.3%
    Hispanic 4,180 17.1%
    Native American 146 0.6%
    Pacific Islander 236 1.0%
    White 5,978 24.5%
    TOTAL 22,044 out of 24,382 90.4% out of 100%
    Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\): Enrollment of De Anza College (Spring 2010)

    The following graph is the same as the previous graph but the “Other/Unknown” percent (9.6%) has been included. The “Other/Unknown” category is large compared to some of the other categories (Native American, 0.6%, Pacific Islander 1.0%). This is important to know when we think about what the data are telling us.

    This particular bar graph in Figure \(\PageIndex{4}\) can be difficult to understand visually. The graph in Figure \(\PageIndex{5}\) is a Pareto chart. The Pareto chart has the bars sorted from largest to smallest and is easier to read and interpret.


    Figure \(\PageIndex{4}\): Bar Graph with Other/Unknown Category


    Figure \(\PageIndex{5}\): Pareto Chart With Bars Sorted by Size

    Pie Charts: No Missing Data

    The following pie charts have the “Other/Unknown” category included (since the percentages must add to 100%). The chart in Figure \(\PageIndex{6}\) is organized by the size of each wedge, which makes it a more visually informative graph than the unsorted, alphabetical graph in Figure \(\PageIndex{6}\).

    Figure \(\PageIndex{6}\).


    Gathering information about an entire population often costs too much or is virtually impossible. Instead, we use a sample of the population. A sample should have the same characteristics as the population it is representing. Most statisticians use various methods of random sampling in an attempt to achieve this goal. This section will describe a few of the most common methods. There are several different methods of random sampling. In each form of random sampling, each member of a population initially has an equal chance of being selected for the sample. Each method has pros and cons. The easiest method to describe is called a simple random sample. Any group of n individuals is equally likely to be chosen by any other group of n individuals if the simple random sampling technique is used. In other words, each sample of the same size has an equal chance of being selected. For example, suppose Lisa wants to form a four-person study group (herself and three other people) from her pre-calculus class, which has 31 members not including Lisa. To choose a simple random sample of size three from the other members of her class, Lisa could put all 31 names in a hat, shake the hat, close her eyes, and pick out three names. A more technological way is for Lisa to first list the last names of the members of her class together with a two-digit number, as in Table 1.3.2:

    Table \(\PageIndex{3}\): Class Roster
    ID Name ID Name ID Name
    00 Anselmo 11 King 21 Roquero
    01 Bautista 12 Legeny 22 Roth
    02 Bayani 13 Lundquist 23 Rowell
    03 Cheng 14 Macierz 24 Salangsang
    04 Cuarismo 15 Motogawa 25 Slade
    05 Cuningham 16 Okimoto 26 Stratcher
    06 Fontecha 17 Patel 27 Tallai
    07 Hong 18 Price 28 Tran
    08 Hoobler 19 Quizon 29 Wai
    09 Jiao 20 Reyes 30 Wood
    10 Khan        

    Lisa can use a table of random numbers (found in many statistics books and mathematical handbooks), a calculator, or a computer to generate random numbers. For this example, suppose Lisa chooses to generate random numbers from a calculator. The numbers generated are as follows:

    0.94360; 0.99832; 0.14669; 0.51470; 0.40581; 0.73381; 0.04399

    Lisa reads two-digit groups until she has chosen three class members (that is, she reads 0.94360 as the groups 94, 43, 36, 60). Each random number may only contribute one class member. If she needed to, Lisa could have generated more random numbers.

    The random numbers 0.94360 and 0.99832 do not contain appropriate two digit numbers. However the third random number, 0.14669, contains 14 (the fourth random number also contains 14), the fifth random number contains 05, and the seventh random number contains 04. The two-digit number 14 corresponds to Macierz, 05 corresponds to Cuningham, and 04 corresponds to Cuarismo. Besides herself, Lisa’s group will consist of Marcierz, Cuningham, and Cuarismo.

    The easiest way to generate a random number is to ask your smartphone, Google Assistant, or Alexa or for a random number.  For example just say "Generate a random number between 4 and 15" and the technology will give you one.


    Random Number Generator

    Below is a simple random number generator:

    Enter the lower bound and the upper bound for the random number and click in the Get Random button to generate a random number.

    Low:   High:   Random Number:    


    To generate random numbers:

    • Press MATH.
    • Arrow over to PRB.
    • Press 5:randInt(. Enter 0, 30).
    • Press ENTER for the first random number.
    • Press ENTER two more times for the other 2 random numbers. If there is a repeat press ENTER again.

    Note: randInt(0, 30, 3) will generate 3 random numbers.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{7}\)

    Besides simple random sampling, there are other forms of sampling that involve a chance process for getting the sample. Other well-known random sampling methods are the stratified sample, the cluster sample, and the systematic sample.

    To choose a stratified sample, divide the population into groups called strata and then take a proportionate number from each stratum. For example, you could stratify (group) your college population by department and then choose a proportionate simple random sample from each stratum (each department) to get a stratified random sample. To choose a simple random sample from each department, number each member of the first department, number each member of the second department, and do the same for the remaining departments. Then use simple random sampling to choose proportionate numbers from the first department and do the same for each of the remaining departments. Those numbers picked from the first department, picked from the second department, and so on represent the members who make up the stratified sample.

    To choose a cluster sample, divide the population into clusters (groups) and then randomly select some of the clusters. All the members from these clusters are in the cluster sample. For example, if you randomly sample four departments from your college population, the four departments make up the cluster sample. Divide your college faculty by department. The departments are the clusters. Number each department, and then choose four different numbers using simple random sampling. All members of the four departments with those numbers are the cluster sample.

    To choose a systematic sample, randomly select a starting point and take every nth piece of data from a listing of the population. For example, suppose you have to do a phone survey. Your phone book contains 20,000 residence listings. You must choose 400 names for the sample. Number the population 1–20,000 and then use a simple random sample to pick a number that represents the first name in the sample. Then choose every fiftieth name thereafter until you have a total of 400 names (you might have to go back to the beginning of your phone list). Systematic sampling is frequently chosen because it is a simple method.

    A type of sampling that is non-random is convenience sampling. Convenience sampling involves using results that are readily available. For example, a computer software store conducts a marketing study by interviewing potential customers who happen to be in the store browsing through the available software. The results of convenience sampling may be very good in some cases and highly biased (favor certain outcomes) in others.

    Sampling data should be done very carefully. Collecting data carelessly can have devastating results. Surveys mailed to households and then returned may be very biased (they may favor a certain group). It is better for the person conducting the survey to select the sample respondents.

    True random sampling is done with replacement. That is, once a member is picked, that member goes back into the population and thus may be chosen more than once. However for practical reasons, in most populations, simple random sampling is done without replacement. Surveys are typically done without replacement. That is, a member of the population may be chosen only once. Most samples are taken from large populations and the sample tends to be small in comparison to the population. Since this is the case, sampling without replacement is approximately the same as sampling with replacement because the chance of picking the same individual more than once with replacement is very low.

    In a college population of 10,000 people, suppose you want to pick a sample of 1,000 randomly for a survey. For any particular sample of 1,000, if you are sampling with replacement,

    • the chance of picking the first person is 1,000 out of 10,000 (0.1000);
    • the chance of picking a different second person for this sample is 999 out of 10,000 (0.0999);
    • the chance of picking the same person again is 1 out of 10,000 (very low).

    If you are sampling without replacement,

    • the chance of picking the first person for any particular sample is 1000 out of 10,000 (0.1000);
    • the chance of picking a different second person is 999 out of 9,999 (0.0999);
    • you do not replace the first person before picking the next person.

    Compare the fractions 999/10,000 and 999/9,999. For accuracy, carry the decimal answers to four decimal places. To four decimal places, these numbers are equivalent (0.0999).

    Sampling without replacement instead of sampling with replacement becomes a mathematical issue only when the population is small. For example, if the population is 25 people, the sample is ten, and you are sampling with replacement for any particular sample, then the chance of picking the first person is ten out of 25, and the chance of picking a different second person is nine out of 25 (you replace the first person).

    If you sample without replacement, then the chance of picking the first person is ten out of 25, and then the chance of picking the second person (who is different) is nine out of 24 (you do not replace the first person).

    Compare the fractions 9/25 and 9/24. To four decimal places, 9/25 = 0.3600 and 9/24 = 0.3750. To four decimal places, these numbers are not equivalent.

    When you analyze data, it is important to be aware of sampling errors and nonsampling errors. The actual process of sampling causes sampling errors. For example, the sample may not be large enough. Factors not related to the sampling process cause nonsampling errors. A defective counting device can cause a nonsampling error.

    In reality, a sample will never be exactly representative of the population so there will always be some sampling error. As a rule, the larger the sample, the smaller the sampling error.

    In statistics, a sampling bias is created when a sample is collected from a population and some members of the population are not as likely to be chosen as others (remember, each member of the population should have an equally likely chance of being chosen). When a sampling bias happens, there can be incorrect conclusions drawn about the population that is being studied.

    Exercise \(\PageIndex{8}\)

    A study is done to determine the average tuition that San Jose State undergraduate students pay per semester. Each student in the following samples is asked how much tuition he or she paid for the Fall semester. What is the type of sampling in each case?

    1. A sample of 100 undergraduate San Jose State students is taken by organizing the students’ names by classification (freshman, sophomore, junior, or senior), and then selecting 25 students from each.
    2. A random number generator is used to select a student from the alphabetical listing of all undergraduate students in the Fall semester. Starting with that student, every 50th student is chosen until 75 students are included in the sample.
    3. A completely random method is used to select 75 students. Each undergraduate student in the fall semester has the same probability of being chosen at any stage of the sampling process.
    4. The freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior years are numbered one, two, three, and four, respectively. A random number generator is used to pick two of those years. All students in those two years are in the sample.
    5. An administrative assistant is asked to stand in front of the library one Wednesday and to ask the first 100 undergraduate students he encounters what they paid for tuition the Fall semester. Those 100 students are the sample.


    a. stratified; b. systematic; c. simple random; d. cluster; e. convenience

    Example \(\PageIndex{9}\): Calculator

    You are going to use the random number generator to generate different types of samples from the data. This table displays six sets of quiz scores (each quiz counts 10 points) for an elementary statistics class.

    #1 #2 #3 #4 #5 #6
    5 7 10 9 8 3
    10 5 9 8 7 6
    9 10 8 6 7 9
    9 10 10 9 8 9
    7 8 9 5 7 4
    9 9 9 10 8 7
    7 7 10 9 8 8
    8 8 9 10 8 8
    9 7 8 7 7 8
    8 8 10 9 8 7

    Instructions: Use the Random Number Generator to pick samples.

    1. Create a stratified sample by column. Pick three quiz scores randomly from each column.
      • Number each row one through ten.
      • On your calculator, press Math and arrow over to PRB.
      • For column 1, Press 5:randInt( and enter 1,10). Press ENTER. Record the number. Press ENTER 2 more times (even the repeats). Record these numbers. Record the three quiz scores in column one that correspond to these three numbers.
      • Repeat for columns two through six.
      • These 18 quiz scores are a stratified sample.
    2. Create a cluster sample by picking two of the columns. Use the column numbers: one through six.
      • Press MATH and arrow over to PRB.
      • Press 5:randInt( and enter 1,6). Press ENTER. Record the number. Press ENTER and record that number.
      • The two numbers are for two of the columns.
      • The quiz scores (20 of them) in these 2 columns are the cluster sample.
    3. Create a simple random sample of 15 quiz scores.
      • Use the numbering one through 60.
      • Press MATH. Arrow over to PRB. Press 5:randInt( and enter 1, 60).
      • Press ENTER 15 times and record the numbers.
      • Record the quiz scores that correspond to these numbers.
      • These 15 quiz scores are the systematic sample.
    4. Create a systematic sample of 12 quiz scores.
      • Use the numbering one through 60.
      • Press MATH. Arrow over to PRB. Press 5:randInt( and enter 1, 60).
      • Press ENTER. Record the number and the first quiz score. From that number, count ten quiz scores and record that quiz score. Keep counting ten quiz scores and recording the quiz score until you have a sample of 12 quiz scores. You may wrap around (go back to the beginning).

    Example \(\PageIndex{10}\)

    Determine the type of sampling used (simple random, stratified, systematic, cluster, or convenience).

    1. A soccer coach selects six players from a group of boys aged eight to ten, seven players from a group of boys aged 11 to 12, and three players from a group of boys aged 13 to 14 to form a recreational soccer team.
    2. A pollster interviews all human resource personnel in five different high tech companies.
    3. A high school educational researcher interviews 50 high school female teachers and 50 high school male teachers.
    4. A medical researcher interviews every third cancer patient from a list of cancer patients at a local hospital.
    5. A high school counselor uses a computer to generate 50 random numbers and then picks students whose names correspond to the numbers.
    6. A student interviews classmates in his algebra class to determine how many pairs of jeans a student owns, on the average.


    a. stratified; b. cluster; c. stratified; d. systematic; e. simple random; f.convenience

    Exercise \(\PageIndex{11}\)

    Determine the type of sampling used (simple random, stratified, systematic, cluster, or convenience).

    A high school principal polls 50 freshmen, 50 sophomores, 50 juniors, and 50 seniors regarding policy changes for after school activities.



    Query \(\PageIndex{1}\)

    If we were to examine two samples representing the same population, even if we used random sampling methods for the samples, they would not be exactly the same. Just as there is variation in data, there is variation in samples. As you become accustomed to sampling, the variability will begin to seem natural.

    Example \(\PageIndex{12}\): Sampling

    Suppose ABC College has 10,000 part-time students (the population). We are interested in the average amount of money a part-time student spends on books in the fall term. Asking all 10,000 students is an almost impossible task. Suppose we take two different samples.

    First, we use convenience sampling and survey ten students from a first term organic chemistry class. Many of these students are taking first term calculus in addition to the organic chemistry class. The amount of money they spend on books is as follows:

    $128; $87; $173; $116; $130; $204; $147; $189; $93; $153

    The second sample is taken using a list of senior citizens who take P.E. classes and taking every fifth senior citizen on the list, for a total of ten senior citizens. They spend:

    $50; $40; $36; $15; $50; $100; $40; $53; $22; $22

    a. Do you think that either of these samples is representative of (or is characteristic of) the entire 10,000 part-time student population?


    a. No. The first sample probably consists of science-oriented students. Besides the chemistry course, some of them are also taking first-term calculus. Books for these classes tend to be expensive. Most of these students are, more than likely, paying more than the average part-time student for their books. The second sample is a group of senior citizens who are, more than likely, taking courses for health and interest. The amount of money they spend on books is probably much less than the average parttime student. Both samples are biased. Also, in both cases, not all students have a chance to be in either sample.

    b. Since these samples are not representative of the entire population, is it wise to use the results to describe the entire population?


    b. No. For these samples, each member of the population did not have an equally likely chance of being chosen.

    Now, suppose we take a third sample. We choose ten different part-time students from the disciplines of chemistry, math, English, psychology, sociology, history, nursing, physical education, art, and early childhood development. (We assume that these are the only disciplines in which part-time students at ABC College are enrolled and that an equal number of part-time students are enrolled in each of the disciplines.) Each student is chosen using simple random sampling. Using a calculator, random numbers are generated and a student from a particular discipline is selected if he or she has a corresponding number. The students spend the following amounts:

    $180; $50; $150; $85; $260; $75; $180; $200; $200; $150

    c. Is the sample biased?


    Students often ask if it is "good enough" to take a sample, instead of surveying the entire population. If the survey is done well, the answer is yes.

    Exercise \(\PageIndex{12}\)

    A local radio station has a fan base of 20,000 listeners. The station wants to know if its audience would prefer more music or more talk shows. Asking all 20,000 listeners is an almost impossible task.

    The station uses convenience sampling and surveys the first 200 people they meet at one of the station’s music concert events. 24 people said they’d prefer more talk shows, and 176 people said they’d prefer more music.

    Do you think that this sample is representative of (or is characteristic of) the entire 20,000 listener population?


    The sample probably consists more of people who prefer music because it is a concert event. Also, the sample represents only those who showed up to the event earlier than the majority. The sample probably doesn’t represent the entire fan base and is probably biased towards people who would prefer music.


    As a class, determine whether or not the following samples are representative. If they are not, discuss the reasons.

    1. To find the average GPA of all students in a university, use all honor students at the university as the sample.
    2. To find out the most popular cereal among young people under the age of ten, stand outside a large supermarket for three hours and speak to every twentieth child under age ten who enters the supermarket.
    3. To find the average annual income of all adults in the United States, sample U.S. congressmen. Create a cluster sample by considering each state as a stratum (group). By using simple random sampling, select states to be part of the cluster. Then survey every U.S. congressman in the cluster.
    4. To determine the proportion of people taking public transportation to work, survey 20 people in New York City. Conduct the survey by sitting in Central Park on a bench and interviewing every person who sits next to you.
    5. To determine the average cost of a two-day stay in a hospital in Massachusetts, survey 100 hospitals across the state using simple random sampling.

    Variation in Data

    Variation is present in any set of data. For example, 16-ounce cans of beverage may contain more or less than 16 ounces of liquid. In one study, eight 16 ounce cans were measured and produced the following amount (in ounces) of beverage:

    15.8; 16.1; 15.2; 14.8; 15.8; 15.9; 16.0; 15.5

    Measurements of the amount of beverage in a 16-ounce can may vary because different people make the measurements or because the exact amount, 16 ounces of liquid, was not put into the cans. Manufacturers regularly run tests to determine if the amount of beverage in a 16-ounce can falls within the desired range.

    Be aware that as you take data, your data may vary somewhat from the data someone else is taking for the same purpose. This is completely natural. However, if two or more of you are taking the same data and get very different results, it is time for you and the others to reevaluate your data-taking methods and your accuracy.

    Variation in Samples

    It was mentioned previously that two or more samples from the same population, taken randomly, and having close to the same characteristics of the population will likely be different from each other. Suppose Doreen and Jung both decide to study the average amount of time students at their college sleep each night. Doreen and Jung each take samples of 500 students. Doreen uses systematic sampling and Jung uses cluster sampling. Doreen's sample will be different from Jung's sample. Even if Doreen and Jung used the same sampling method, in all likelihood their samples would be different. Neither would be wrong, however.

    Think about what contributes to making Doreen’s and Jung’s samples different.

    If Doreen and Jung took larger samples (i.e. the number of data values is increased), their sample results (the average amount of time a student sleeps) might be closer to the actual population average. But still, their samples would be, in all likelihood, different from each other. This variability in samples cannot be stressed enough.

    Size of a Sample

    The size of a sample (often called the number of observations) is important. The examples you have seen in this book so far have been small. Samples of only a few hundred observations, or even smaller, are sufficient for many purposes. In polling, samples that are from 1,200 to 1,500 observations are considered large enough and good enough if the survey is random and is well done. You will learn why when you study confidence intervals.

    Be aware that many large samples are biased. For example, call-in surveys are invariably biased, because people choose to respond or not.


    Divide into groups of two, three, or four. Your instructor will give each group one six-sided die. Try this experiment twice. Roll one fair die (six-sided) 20 times. Record the number of ones, twos, threes, fours, fives, and sixes you get in the following table (“frequency” is the number of times a particular face of the die occurs):

    First Experiment (20 rolls)   Second Experiment (20 rolls)
    Face on Die Frequency   Face on Die Frequency

    Did the two experiments have the same results? Probably not. If you did the experiment a third time, do you expect the results to be identical to the first or second experiment? Why or why not?

    Which experiment had the correct results? They both did. The job of the statistician is to see through the variability and draw appropriate conclusions.

    Critical Evaluation

    We need to evaluate the statistical studies we read about critically and analyze them before accepting the results of the studies. Common problems to be aware of include

    • Problems with samples: A sample must be representative of the population. A sample that is not representative of the population is biased. Biased samples that are not representative of the population give results that are inaccurate and not valid.
    • Self-selected samples: Responses only by people who choose to respond, such as call-in surveys, are often unreliable.
    • Sample size issues: Samples that are too small may be unreliable. Larger samples are better, if possible. In some situations, having small samples is unavoidable and can still be used to draw conclusions. Examples: crash testing cars or medical testing for rare conditions
    • Undue influence: collecting data or asking questions in a way that influences the response
    • Non-response or refusal of subject to participate: The collected responses may no longer be representative of the population. Often, people with strong positive or negative opinions may answer surveys, which can affect the results.
    • Causality: A relationship between two variables does not mean that one causes the other to occur. They may be related (correlated) because of their relationship through a different variable.
    • Self-funded or self-interest studies: A study performed by a person or organization in order to support their claim. Is the study impartial? Read the study carefully to evaluate the work. Do not automatically assume that the study is good, but do not automatically assume the study is bad either. Evaluate it on its merits and the work done.
    • Misleading use of data: improperly displayed graphs, incomplete data, or lack of context
    • Confounding: When the effects of multiple factors on a response cannot be separated. Confounding makes it difficult or impossible to draw valid conclusions about the effect of each factor.


    1. Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. (accessed May 1, 2013).
    2. Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. (accessed May 1, 2013).
    3. Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. (accessed May 1, 2013).
    4. Data from
    5. Dominic Lusinchi, “’President’ Landon and the 1936 Literary Digest Poll: Were Automobile and Telephone Owners to Blame?” Social Science History 36, no. 1: 23-54 (2012), (accessed May 1, 2013).
    6. “The Literary Digest Poll,” Virtual Laboratories in Probability and Statistics (accessed May 1, 2013).
    7. “Gallup Presidential Election Trial-Heat Trends, 1936–2008,” Gallup Politics (accessed May 1, 2013).
    8. The Data and Story Library, (accessed May 1, 2013).
    9. LBCC Distance Learning (DL) program data in 2010-2011, (accessed May 1, 2013).
    10. Data from San Jose Mercury News

    Chapter Review

    Data are individual items of information that come from a population or sample. Data may be classified as qualitative, quantitative continuous, or quantitative discrete.

    Because it is not practical to measure the entire population in a study, researchers use samples to represent the population. A random sample is a representative group from the population chosen by using a method that gives each individual in the population an equal chance of being included in the sample. Random sampling methods include simple random sampling, stratified sampling, cluster sampling, and systematic sampling. Convenience sampling is a nonrandom method of choosing a sample that often produces biased data.

    Samples that contain different individuals result in different data. This is true even when the samples are well-chosen and representative of the population. When properly selected, larger samples model the population more closely than smaller samples. There are many different potential problems that can affect the reliability of a sample. Statistical data needs to be critically analyzed, not simply accepted.


    1. lastbaldeagle. 2013. On Tax Day, House to Call for Firing Federal Workers Who Owe Back Taxes. Opinion poll posted online at: (accessed May 1, 2013).
    2. Scott Keeter et al., “Gauging the Impact of Growing Nonresponse on Estimates from a National RDD Telephone Survey,” Public Opinion Quarterly 70 no. 5 (2006), (accessed May 1, 2013).
    3. Frequently Asked Questions, Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, (accessed May 1, 2013).


    Cluster Sampling
    a method for selecting a random sample and dividing the population into groups (clusters); use simple random sampling to select a set of clusters. Every individual in the chosen clusters is included in the sample.
    Continuous Random Variable
    a random variable (RV) whose outcomes are measured; the height of trees in the forest is a continuous RV.
    Convenience Sampling
    a nonrandom method of selecting a sample; this method selects individuals that are easily accessible and may result in biased data.
    Discrete Random Variable
    a random variable (RV) whose outcomes are counted
    Nonsampling Error
    an issue that affects the reliability of sampling data other than natural variation; it includes a variety of human errors including poor study design, biased sampling methods, inaccurate information provided by study participants, data entry errors, and poor analysis.
    Qualitative Data
    See Data.
    Quantitative Data
    See Data.
    Random Sampling
    a method of selecting a sample that gives every member of the population an equal chance of being selected.
    Sampling Bias
    not all members of the population are equally likely to be selected
    Sampling Error
    the natural variation that results from selecting a sample to represent a larger population; this variation decreases as the sample size increases, so selecting larger samples reduces sampling error.
    Sampling with Replacement
    Once a member of the population is selected for inclusion in a sample, that member is returned to the population for the selection of the next individual.
    Sampling without Replacement
    A member of the population may be chosen for inclusion in a sample only once. If chosen, the member is not returned to the population before the next selection.
    Simple Random Sampling
    a straightforward method for selecting a random sample; give each member of the population a number. Use a random number generator to select a set of labels. These randomly selected labels identify the members of your sample.
    Stratified Sampling
    a method for selecting a random sample used to ensure that subgroups of the population are represented adequately; divide the population into groups (strata). Use simple random sampling to identify a proportionate number of individuals from each stratum.
    Systematic Sampling
    a method for selecting a random sample; list the members of the population. Use simple random sampling to select a starting point in the population. Let k = (number of individuals in the population)/(number of individuals needed in the sample). Choose every kth individual in the list starting with the one that was randomly selected. If necessary, return to the beginning of the population list to complete your sample.


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