For an Education in Statistics

The abil­ity to under­stand data and its ana­lyses is becom­ing more import­ant in many aspects of our lives–especially government–says Clive Thompson, and as such stat­ist­ic­al lit­er­acy is becom­ing an import­ant skill.

Using recent argu­ments used by some con­fused cli­mate change scep­tics to show why it is import­ant, Thompson explains briefly why we should learn the ‘lan­guage of data’:

Stat­ist­ics is hard. But that’s not just an issue of indi­vidu­al under­stand­ing; it’s also becom­ing one of the nation’s biggest polit­ic­al prob­lems. We live in a world where the thorn­i­est policy issues increas­ingly boil down to argu­ments over what the data mean. If you don’t under­stand stat­ist­ics, you don’t know what’s going on — and you can­’t tell when you’re being lied to. Stat­ist­ics should now be a core part of gen­er­al edu­ca­tion. You should­n’t fin­ish high school without under­stand­ing it reas­on­ably well — as well, say, as you can com­pose an essay.

That’s pre­cisely the point. We often say, rightly, that lit­er­acy is cru­cial to pub­lic life: If you can­’t write, you can­’t think. The same is now true in math. Stat­ist­ics is the new gram­mar.