Since at least 1951 anesthesia journals have called for a more rigorous application of statistical methods in research reports (9, 14). This appeal for statistical excellence actually applies to the researcher, to the clinician journal reader, and to the editor. Thirty five years ago the obligations of these three groups was made clear in an unsigned editorial in Anesthesiology (9); there is now a widespread consensus on these responsibilities (1, 2, 21). The researcher must create valid science. The clinician reader must bring sufficient intellectual skills to understand a journal article; using these skills the reader must critique the research report to judge its applicability to his patients. The editor must decline manuscripts showing poor or absent application of the scientific method, experimental design, and statistical analysis.
Though the editors continue to exhort further improvements, even a casual persusal of their journals demonstrates a tremendous improvement in the handling of numeric data over the last four decades (3, 10, 11, 17, 19). With the increasing sophistication of statistical methods in journals, the reader must continue to expand his statistical understanding.
In this short review, a few highlights of statistical methods useful either in planning and accomplishing a research project or in reading a research report will be discussed; these include the planning of a study design, data collection, data analysis, and interpretation of the research. Comments about using these concepts to better understand a research article will be included. Also included will be an annotated reading list for further study and reference. Mathematical formulas have been avoided as much as possible. Actual use of statistics requires use of equations which can be found in the books of the reading list.