Statistical Literacy:
the study of
statistics used in
everyday arguments

2005  2005   08/24/15

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Statistical Literacy studies statistics used as evidence in everyday arguments. Statistical literacy is closely related to Numeracy, Quantitative Literacy and Statistics.   Stat Lit focuses more on observational studies than experiments, more on two-group comparisons than correlation, more on context and multivariate thinking than chance, and more on ordinary-language than on algebraic-formulas.  

Although "association doesn't prove causation" in observational studies, the decision-related question is how much support does a statistical association give for inferring a direct causal connection.  This site focuses on that evaluation.

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

"What everyone needs [from statistics] is...called statistical thinking or statistical literacy, a crucial component of quantitative literacy." Lynn Steen

For background, read "Telling the Truth about More Damned Lies and Statistics" by Joel Best, Chronicle of Higher Education.  Print version.

2005 Stat Lit News:    Get concise updates on what is happening.   One to two e-mails per year.  Easy opt-out option; no passwords. No other member sees your name or address.  803 members.  See 2004 Stat Lit News.   For more stories, see

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Statistical Literacy 2005

Statistical Literacy On-Line 4/2005

Observational Studies (2nd Ed) 11/2004

April 1, 2005: Capella University offers Statistical Literacy (MAT 2050) on-line under "Mathematical and Logical Reasoning."  "This course concentrates on the application of critical thinking skills to arguments involving statistics. Emphasis is placed on the learner as a consumer of statistics rather than a producer of statistical calculations. Course activities focus on the interpretation ...of real-world situations and news stories."  See detailed review by course designer Marc Isaacson.

Paul Rosenbaum's classic Observational Studies is out in an expanded 2nd edition.  This book is a great reference. According to Tom Love, "This book is about half again as long, and has new chapters on non-additive models for treatment effects, and on planning observational studies.  It also has lots of newer methods described.  I think it's a substantial leap forward over the 1995 text."

Quantitative Literacy (Q/L) versus Real Math
for College Admission

Greater Expectations for Quantitative Learning 8/04

Tony Griffith, Math Instructor, Westminster School. Online Feedback. I agree with the premise [of QL], but ..I teach high school math at a prep school....  Does the admissions office at Amherst prefer a kid who can discuss Simpson's Paradox or simplify a rational function? Does the SAT 2 reward a kid who can understand Arrow's Impossibility Theorem or factor a cubic function?

Carol Geary Schneider, president AAC&U. "No one course of study can realistically develop all the major kinds of quantitative literacies." "It is malpractice to allow students to slip through college without developing the ability to use quantitative strategies to examine significant questions."  We are shortchanging our graduates with the demands of a numbers-infused world.

Online Quiz: Reading Tables of Percentages   8/05

Statistical Literacy: A Calling for Statistical Educators 5/05

An on-line survey has been developed on reading basic tables of percentages.   Respondents receive immediate feedback.  This simple survey is an eye-opener.  Less than 25% answer all five questions correctly. Test your students. See how many they get right.   Paper version

Milo Schield participated in an invited panel organized by IASE President Chris Wild at the 2005 ISI on the future of statistical education.  In a background paper, Milo argued that statistical educators spend too much effort ministering to "believers" by teaching traditional statistics and not enough effort converting "non-believers" into "believers" by teaching statistical literacy.

UNDP Paris21: Statistical Literacy Project   1/2005 [added 2012]

From Statistical Significance to Effect Estimation [Added 6/2012]

Statistical Literacy Training • Regional courses to train 12 trainers for each country and provide support and seed funding to train 100-200 in country users • Training will cover : MDG indicators ; Sources, methods and meta data ; Accessing data through the central repository ; Basic statistical analysis ; Analysis of data for improving monitoring, evaluation, advocacy and policy development.  6up Handout

Fiona Fidler (La Trobe University in Melbourne Australia) authored "From Statistical Significance to Effect Estimation: Statistical Reform in Psychology, Medicine and Ecology."  As noted on her personal website, "Statistical reform involves a move away from over-reliance on statistical significance testing and dichotomous decisions made on the basis of p values to effect size estimation, confidence intervals, Bayesian techniques and other methods."

Statistical Literacy: IASSIST

International Association for Social Science Information Service & Technology

IASSIST IQ: Special Issue on Statistical Literacy 10/2005

Information Literacy, Statistical Literacy and Data Literacy  10/2005

 "IASSIST has a significant role to play in helping nurture new generations of data service providers who can help build a persistent culture of statistically-literate students, researchers and professionals.    And may this wave of commitment to and enthusiasm for the cause of statistical literacy thrive!’!’" Wendy Watkins (right) and Louise Corti (far right).

Milo Schield, Augsburg College, (shown with Louise Corti, IASSIST Europe) argues that librarians interested in information literacy and data librarians interested in data literacy should consider teaching statistical literacy since all three involve critical thinking and since many social science arguments involve statistics.

Data and Statistical Literacy for Librarians 10/2005

Enhancing Critical Thinking and Data Literacy  

Ann Gray noted that "statistical literacy is necessary to interprete the information that is provided in order to determine if the statistic is right for a specific purpose or application."  She argued that "library schools should teach statistical literacy. Librarians need to know to make assessments of quality and utility..."

Louse Corti (above), UK Data Archive at Colchester Essex, presented the Survey Data in Teaching Project (SDiT): Enhancing Critical Thinking and Data Literacy.  Project goal: "improving the data literacy of ... students to: enable a better understanding of the use of social science data...  and become critical consumers of these data.



Numeracy, Statistics and Mathematics 12/2004

Young Epidemiology Scholars (YES) Competition 2004

At Numeracy and Beyond, Part II, Dick Scheaffer, past-president of ASA, argued that "statistics can serve as one important (perhaps essential) vehicle for effecting improvements in the teaching of QL." Project Overview and Goal:  To see "what level of numeracy might be required of average citizens..."  "to identify [fundamental] principles ...  which could guide teaching."

"The YES Competition offers college scholarship awards to high school juniors and seniors who conduct outstanding research projects that apply epidemiological methods of analysis to a health-related issue.  David Fraser (past President Swarthmore) views "Epidemiology as a liberal art" and presents an "Intellectual Framework."  Teaching units include Confounding (10), Observational Studies & Bias in Epidemiology (19), Measures in Epidemiology (9) and Attributable Risk Applications (17). 

MAA Quantitative Literacy Workshop

MAA Quantitative Literacy Workshop 6/2005

QL in the News  6/2005

Host David Bressoud, Macalester College.    In his keynote, "Core Concepts in QL", Milo Schield argued that QL must have core concepts "that non-math faculty can understand easily, use regularly and teach effectively."   Notes & 6up slides.  Bernie Madison  expressed concern in making QL a formal discipline.

Danny Kaplan, Macalester College, reviewed using everyday news stories in a Quantitative Methods for Public Policy course .   Policy Topics: Response to Global Warming, Mad Cow Disease, Immigration and Taxes. Quantitative topics that span policy topics: rates, growth, trade-offs, detection and  sampling.  Average vs Marginal Rates.

National Numeracy Network

News Math: A QL Course Using The News  6/2005

Building Bridges for QL: NNN & SIGMAA QL  5/2005

Bernie Madison, University of Arkansas, is teaching a unique QL course, "News Math," based on articles in the everyday news. Topics: Measurement & number sense, Rates of change, Probability and StatisticsLessons: Using Numbers, Percent and Percent Change, Linear and Exponential Growth, Indices and Condensed Measures, Graphical Interpretation and Production, Counting, Odds, Risk, Geometric Measurement and Weather Forecasting.  Syllabus.

Bernie Madison, noted that the National Numeracy Network and the SIGMAA QL
"have missions that are integral parts of a growing national effort to make Americans more able to deal with the multitude of quantitative issues that confront them in their daily lives as citizens, consumers, and workers." 

MAA: Numeracy and SIG QL 2005

Important Math Concepts for Numeracy   1/05/2005

Quantitative Literacy 1/07/2005

Bernie Madison (5 Jan): Talk at MAA.  This combination of word and number is deadly! Check your math majors at the ends of their careers, check your graduate students, check your colleagues....  See "What is a Course in QL?" "Methods learned vanish rather quickly."

Bernie Madison (7 Jan) from talk at MAASIG QL: "even modified traditional math courses will not suffice to achieve quantitative literacy in our students..."  "...It’s going to require much closer connections to world conditions that dictate what QL is." "Nobody can achieve quantitative literacy with just a course..." "Courses and textbooks tend to promote the degeneration to methodology."

Quantitative Reasoning (ACM)

Carleton hosts QR Workshop for ACM 10/2005
Strengthening Quantitative Reasoning

Quantity Words without Numbers:
Why Students Use "Many"

Carleton Dean, Scott Bierman, hosted the two-day Associated Colleges of the Midwest (ACM) workshop.  He introduced speakers Joel Best (author of Damned Lies and Statistics) and Bill Seagraves (Associate Dean of Yale College).  He reviewed data obtained in the use of quantitative measures in student portfolios. QR at ACM colleges. Download Seagraves' PPT.

Milo Schield, Augsburg College, analyzed some 500 words that involve quantity without specifying a number.  E.g., many, most, few and some.  Schield argued that students avoid using more precise measures (rates and percentages) because they did not know how to describe or compare rates and percentages.  Includes Schield's 2004 list of the top 25 books on Statistical Literacy. 

ISI 2005

Panel: IPM 48: Statistics for life

Managing Uncertainty

Chris Wild (New Zealand) organized a panel on the topic of "Statistics for Life: What statistical ideas or wkills matter most, and why?"  Speakers included Denise Lievesley (ISI President 2007-2009),  Stephen Stigler (ISI President 2003-2005) and Niels Keiding (ISI President 2005 - 2007), Nick Fisher (ISI Vice President 2003-2005) and Milo Schield.  Speakers were asked to be provacative, over-the-top in making predictions about the future of statistical education.

Denise Lievesley (UNESCO) noted that "No modern society can function meaningfully as a democracy if the electorate remains statistically illiterate."  Essential skills: "Are useful in multiple life contexts; Are associated with social, economic , educational and health outcomes; Can be learned and taught; and Improve individual’s ability to adapt to change and to shape their environment." "Numeracy is the knowledge and skills required to effectively manage and respond to the mathematical demands of diverse situations."

Statistical Literacy: An Evangelical Calling    4/2005

What statistical ideas or skills matter most, and why?

Milo predicted that 2005 would be the high point for the prevalence of statisticians in MBA programs and for statistics in business programs. 6up  Milo referenced this paper: Statistical Literacy: An Evangelical calling for Statistical Educators. 6up slides. If statistical educators are to serve the quantitative needs of these students, they must be evangelists to non-believers rather than being ministers to believers; they must focus on statistical literacy rather on statistical competence.

Nick Fisher (ValueMetrics Australia) argued that managing uncertainty involves: Understand basic statistical graphics and how they can be misused.  Appreciating that statistical numbers ... aren’t really as precise as they appear.  Being conscious of the possibilities of biases …  Realising that reliable data can be obtained by surveying a relatively tiny fraction of population. Realising that apparent differences between two averages may not be real.

Assessing Statistical Literacy in Graduate Statistics

Promoting Statistical Literacy Among Students

Enriqueta D. Reston (Univ. of San Carlos,) investigated the statistical literacy of 56 graduate students using a 15 item scale.  Statistical literacy was measured at two levels: (1) understanding basic statistical concepts, and (2) ability to understand and follow claims and arguments based on data and graphs presented in newspapers and research reports.  students performed relatively poorly in the 15- point scale (mean =6.93; SD=2.39; range=12-2). For the students, their relatively poor performance was an “ eye-opener“. Further, it has served as a motivation for them to own the goal of developing statistical literacy.

Fredrich Ho presented The Role of Official Statistics Agencies in the Promotion of Statistical Literacy Among Students.  "It is essential for every citizen to possess an adequate understanding of statistical concepts and methodologies and commonly available statistical data. Official statistics agencies are well placed to contribute to the promotion of the statistical knowledge of their communities. This is also a natural task for them too since it is in their own interest to ensure that the statistical data they produce are widely and properly used."

IASE Statistical Education 2005

IASE 2005: The Communication of Statistics   4/2005

Swinburne Uni: A Leader in Report Writing     4/2005

The IASE hosted a conference in Sydney April 2005 on "Statistical Education and the Communication of Statistics.  Kay Lipson (center) and Brian Phillips (right) were co-chairs.  Larry Weldon (left) edited the  proceedings.  Many excellent papers. Check them out.

Kay Lipson (left) and Sue Kokonis (center) talked on "Introducing Report Writing into Introductory Statistics." 

Glenda Francis (right) talked on "An Approach to Report Writing."

Where are the Models?     4/2005

Statistical Prevarication     4/2005

K. Larry Weldon, Canada, proposed that those who design curricula for early statistics courses should "provide a serious introduction to graphical data analysis, at the expense of some traditional parametric inference."   In "Statistics and the Media" Wayne Smith discussed "educating journalists and statisticians to tell the story behind the numbers." 

Milo Schield, Augsburg College US, presented a paper on "Statistical Prevarication: Telling Half-Truths Using Statistics." Milo presented examples of statistical prevarication in the daily news.  He then argued that statistical prevarication is at least as common in intro statistics texts and classes as in the daily news. Milo presented examples of prevarication involving statistical inference.

Inference by Eye: Confidence Intervals   11/2012

Interval Estimates for Statistical Communication     11/2012

Cumming, G. (left) , & Finch, S. (right). Inference by eye: Confidence intervals, and how to read pictures of data. American Psychologist, 60, 170-180. "For 95% confidence intervals and two independent means: p £.05 when the bottom of one 95% confidence interval overlaps the top of the other by about 50 percent."

Geoff Cumming (far left) and Fiona Fiddler (right) highlighted an important finding: "For repeated measure designs, interval estimates around individual means provide no direct information about the statistical significance of the difference. Only 11% of participants demonstrated recognition of this, and indicated that the task could therefore not be completed." For follow-on, see Judging statistical significance from the overlap of confidence intervals

ASA Statistical Education

Concepts and Methods in One Intro Stats Course

Conveying the Core Concepts      8/2004

Jerry Moreno's goal: "to produce liberal arts students who are able ... to read a newspaper more intelligently."  "We cannot afford to offer two intro courses." "Our task is to define a few basic core statistics concepts ...and then build one course around those core concepts." See also his article, "Statistics as a Core Course in Liberal Arts" in MAA's Innovations in Teaching StatisticsReview.

John McKenzie, Babson College, reported on core concepts: Variability (96%), Association-causation (82%), Randomness (77%), Significance: practical / statistical (77%), Data collection (75%), Sampling distributions (71%) and Hypothesis tests (64%). John classified courses as  "statistical literacy-reasoning-thinking" (concepts), applied stats (applications, service) & math. statistics (theory).

Statistical Literacy Session, ASA 2005

Statistical Literacy 2005   8/2005

Crime Scene Investigators & Stat. Literacy 8/2005

The 8th annual session on Statistical Literacy was hosted by Milo Schield at the ASA meeting in Minneapolis.  Speakers included Lewis Cope (left, Jane Miller (right), Marc Isaacson (below), Chris Olsen (lower right),  and Tom Burnham (below Isaacson). Some 90 people attended the session.   Lewis gave an animated presentation titled "Toys, Tales and a Journalist's View of Statistics"

Jane Miller, Rutgers University, presented a paper "What Can 'CSI' Teach Us about Statistical Literacy?"  Jane is the author of "The Chicago Guide to Writing about Numbers" (See StatLit 2004) and "The Chicago Guide to Writing about Multivariate Analysis."   Jane notes that "writing about multivariate analyses is a surprisingly common task."  "A terrific book"  James Trussell

Statistical Literacy at Capella University   8/2005

Epidemiology for Teaching Statistics    8/2005

Marc Isaacson, Augsburg College, reviewed the Statistical Literacy course first offered by Capella University in April 2005 using Schield's Statistical Literacy textbook.  Students found this course "very demanding" but "very satisfying."  They ranked this course 2nd among their 15 Gen Ed courses in challenging students to think critically about the subject matter.

Chris Olson, Cedar Rapids Community Schools, presented a paper, "Epidemiology as a Context for Teaching Confounding in Introductory Statistics."  "surely the most needed discussion about everyday inference is about what is probably the greatest source of inferential error – the confusion of correlation with causation, as well as a general ignorance of ... confounding." 

On-Line Drill: Describe and Compare Rates and Percentages Using Ordinary English      8/2005

Statistical Literacy and Chance      8/2005

Tom Burnham, Cognitive Consulting, presented a paper titled "An Online Program for Decoding Ordinary English Descriptions and Comparisons of Percentages and Rates." This on-line program gives immediate feedback on the use of ordinary English to describe & compare ratios presented in tables.  Students found this program quite helpful. Try it and see.   General Introduction.

Milo Schield, Director of the W. M. Keck Statistical Literacy project at Augsburg College, reviewed the prevalence  of chance-related terms on the web and used these prevalences to identify those topics that should be part of a general statistical literacy course. Includes unusual topics such as evolution, ESP and a Bayesian approach to statistical significance.

2005 StatLit Website Statistics

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