Statistical Literacy:
the study of statistics used as evidence in arguments

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"Statistical literacy, the ability to follow and understand arguments from data..."  For All Practical Purposes. COMAP

"Statistical literacy is necessary if they are to read and evaluate reports..." Practical Statistics For Nursing & Health Care, Jim Fowler

"basic statistical literacy is essential in our contemporary world..." Making Sense of Data and Statistics in Psychology by Brian Greer

"Statistical Literacy" is the ability to understand and critically evaluate statistical results that permeate our daily lives" Katherine Wallman, 1992 ASA Presidential address

"Many universities now have statistical or numerical literacy courses in addition to the traditional introductory statistics course.  One lecture explaining the difference between an observational study and a randomized experiment, and the role of confounding variables in the interpretation of observational studies would do more to prepare students for reading the news than a dozen lectures on statistical inference procedures." Jessica Utts, The American Statistician, May 2003. P. 74.

"The ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) regards statistical literacy as important.  It is a life skill that all people should have."  Dennis Trewin, Director

Statistical Literacy and Numeracy by Peter Holmes, UK 1/ 2004

Statistical Literacy  by Joel Best, US

"When you have huge data sets, which are essentially population, it isnít the sampling variability that is important.   It is the actual figures themselves, and what are the connections between them.   That is an important part of what I would now put in statistical literacy -- which I wouldnít have put in 20 or 30 years ago, because there wasnít so much of this sort of stuff around.  Statistical literacy goes beyond numeracy by focusing on reading and communicating those topics studied in numeracy." Speech at Augsburg College, 3/2003.

Iím talking about simple stuff.   Iím talking about percentages, proportions, ratios, and rates.    Itís the sort of thing that gets handled, if handled at all, in the first week of the introductory statistics course and then itís assumed that ďHey, we all know this stuff.  We can move on.Ē   Yet those of us who spend our time talking with students know full well that, in fact, this isnít something they all understand.  Their confusion affects the way they read the newspaper, it affects the way that they vote, and it affects the way that they understand the world around them.   Speech at Augsburg College, 11/2002.

Statistical Literacy by Eric Sowey, Australia

Statistical Literacy by Prof Jacky Galpin, South Africa

"Enhancing statistical literacy is today a pressing issue. Not knowing that statistical arguments are inductions, statistically illiterate people assign to such arguments the same status as the deductive theorems of their school days, and thus hold the conclusions to be beyond question.  It is my impression, however, that even in developed societies formal teaching aimed expressly at enhancing statistical literacy is still a fledgling enterprise, offered only in scattered locations and to relatively few people."  American Statistician, May 2003, p. 89.

"Statistics is essentially involved with drawing conclusions from data. Stats is needed on all levels of life. A recent workshop highlighted the need for statistical literacy among government officials. After all, it is of little use to pour money into a poverty relief program, if it doesn't relieve poverty. How do we find out if we have achieved the aim? We need to decide on what would tell us whether we have achieved our aim or not.  A drive for statistical literacy in government is about to begin.  We also need statistical literacy among the general public. President Mbeki is aiming for economic literacy. A pre-requisite is statistical literacy."

Dr. Howard Wainer: "Three Paradoxes" [30 Jan, 2004]

Joel Best: More Damned Lies & Statistics [1/2004]

Although many know of Simpson's Paradox, the new graphical technique used to  illustrate this well-known paradox is revolutionary.  While some may have heard of Lord's Paradox, this presentation (based on one by Dr. Donald Rubin) deserves more attention. But how many have heard of Kelley's paradox?  Read this paper to see how regression to the mean can mislead the unwary.  [Strongly recommended for reflective study.  A shortened version of this paper will be published in TAS.]

Coming this summer will be MDLS: More Damned Lies and Statistics -- the sequel to "Damned Lies and Statistics."  With his smooth and enchanting style, his interesting stories and his friendly guidance, Joel gives readers a tour of some other ways that people use statistics opportunistically.   His final chapter is provocative:  Wither Statistical Literacy?   Preview quotes:  "Statistical literacy falls between the stools on which academic departments perch." 

Dr. Donald Rubin on "Causal Inference"

Dr. Paul Holland on "Causation and Race"

Dr. Donald Rubin (Chair, Dept. of Statistics, Harvard) gave a one-hour introductory lecture on "Causal Inference" at the 2003 ASA Joint Statistical Meeting.   Power Point is used to display his slides. Each slide has full audio.
To hear the audio, open this file from its current position. Wait 20-60 seconds.  [Download does not include audio]

Dr. Paul Holland (2003) reviews the move (the slippery slide) from descriptions to comparisons to causation in observational studies.  From the abstract, "Race is often viewed as a causal variable, and "RACE effects" found from regression analyses are sometimes given causal interpretations. I argue that this is a mistaken way to proceed. RACE is not a causal variable in a very important sense of the word, and yet it does have a significant role in causal studies."


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This site was last updated 01/25/14