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.