The join of two algebraic varieties is obtained by taking the closure of the union of all lines spanned by pairs of points, one on each variety. The secant varieties of a variety are obtained by taking the iterated join of a variety with itself. The symbolic powers of ideals arise by looking at the equations that vanish to high order on varieties.
Statistical models are families of probability distributions with special structures which are used to model relationships between collections of random variables. This talk will be an elementary introduction to these topics. I will explain the interrelations between these seemingly unrelated topics, in particular, how symbolic powers can shed light on equations for secant varieties, and how theoretical results on secant varieties shed light on properties of statistical models including mixture models and the factor analysis model. Particular emphasis will be placed on combinatorial aspects including connections to graph theory.