Statistical literacy

# Statistical literacy

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Encyclopedia
Statistical literacy is a term used to describe an individual's or group's ability to understand statistics
Statistics
Statistics is the study of the collection, organization, analysis, and interpretation of data. It deals with all aspects of this, including the planning of data collection in terms of the design of surveys and experiments....

. Statistical literacy is necessary for citizens to understand material presented in publications such as newspaper
Newspaper
A newspaper is a scheduled publication containing news of current events, informative articles, diverse features and advertising. It usually is printed on relatively inexpensive, low-grade paper such as newsprint. By 2007, there were 6580 daily newspapers in the world selling 395 million copies a...

s, television
Television
Television is a telecommunication medium for transmitting and receiving moving images that can be monochrome or colored, with accompanying sound...

, and the Internet
Internet
The Internet is a global system of interconnected computer networks that use the standard Internet protocol suite to serve billions of users worldwide...

. Numeracy
Numeracy
Numeracy is the ability to reason with numbers and other mathematical concepts. A numerically literate person can manage and respond to the mathematical demands of life...

is a prerequisite to being statistically literate. Being statistically literate is sometimes taken to include having both the ability to critically evaluate statistical material and to appreciate the relevance of statistically-based approaches to all aspects of life in general.

## Aspects of statistical literacy

Many official statistical agencies such as Statistics Canada
Statistics Canada is the Canadian federal government agency commissioned with producing statistics to help better understand Canada, its population, resources, economy, society, and culture. Its headquarters is in Ottawa....

and the Australian Bureau of Statistics
Australian Bureau of Statistics
The Australian Bureau of Statistics is Australia's national statistical agency. It was created as the Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics on 8 December 1905, when the Census and Statistics Act 1905 was given Royal assent. It had its beginnings in section 51 of the Constitution of Australia...

have programs to educate students in schools about the nature of statistics. A project of the International Statistical Institute
International Statistical Institute
The International Statistical Institute is a professional association of statisticians. The Institut International de Statistique or International Statistical Institute was founded in 1885 although there had been international congresses from 1853.. The Institute publishes a variety of books and...

is the only international organization whose focus is to promote national programs and drives to increase the statistical literacy of all members of society. Numerous resources and activities, as well as a body of international experts help maintain a very successful campaign across the continents.

Experiments in the sciences, business models and reports, use statistics. People involved in these fields generally have studied the meaning of statistical quantities, such as average
Average
In mathematics, an average, or central tendency of a data set is a measure of the "middle" value of the data set. Average is one form of central tendency. Not all central tendencies should be considered definitions of average....

s and standard deviation
Standard deviation
Standard deviation is a widely used measure of variability or diversity used in statistics and probability theory. It shows how much variation or "dispersion" there is from the average...

. Many colleges and universities require an introductory course in statistics as part of a professional program.

Each day people are inundated with statistical information from advertisements ("4 out of 5 dentists recommend"), news reports ("opinion poll show the incumbent leading by four points"), and even general conversation ("half the time I don't know what you're talking about"). Experts and advocates often use numerical claims to bolster their arguments, and statistical literacy is a necessary skill
Skill
A skill is the learned capacity to carry out pre-determined results often with the minimum outlay of time, energy, or both. Skills can often be divided into domain-general and domain-specific skills...

to help one decide what experts mean and which advocates to believe. This is important because statistics can be made to produce misrepresentations of data that may seem valid. The aim of statistical literacy proponents is to improve the public understanding of numbers and figures

Results of opinion polling are often cited by news organizations, but the quality of such polls varies considerably. Some understanding of the statistical technique of sampling
Sampling (statistics)
In statistics and survey methodology, sampling is concerned with the selection of a subset of individuals from within a population to estimate characteristics of the whole population....

is necessary in order to be able to correctly interpret polling results. Sample sizes may be too small to draw meaningful conclusions, and samples may be biased
Biased sample
In statistics, sampling bias is when a sample is collected in such a way that some members of the intended population are less likely to be included than others. It results in a biased sample, a non-random sample of a population in which all individuals, or instances, were not equally likely to...

. The wording of a poll question may introduce a bias, and thus can even be used intentionally to produce a biased result. Good polls use unbiased techniques, with much time and effort being spent in the design of the questions and polling strategy. Statistical literacy is necessary to understand what makes a poll trustworthy and to properly weigh the value of poll results and conclusions.

A problem also occurs with literacy because of the work of statisticians. The legibility of numerical tables is an example given early in the recent book by Richard M. Heiberger & Burt Holland. In their example, rather than an incorrect, confusing, collection of numbers in misaligned columns, the statistician must present results legibly by lining up the decimal points so the visual presentation is more organised.

To be statistically literate, one must also have a solid understanding of probability theory. Studies have shown that human beingsâ€™ estimations of probabilities are heavily influenced by context and wording. For example, people typically under-estimate the probability of being involved in a car accident because their everyday interaction with vehicles gives the impression that they are safer than they actually are. Likewise, they tend to over-estimate the probability of being attacked by a shark because of media or other influences.

Gambling is one setting in which a lack of statistical literacy can be costly. Simple probability theory helps the individual either estimate or calculate the probabilities involved with games of chance. However, most individuals fail to approximate, for example, the probability of being dealt a full-house in a game of poker. Not understanding these probabilities causes the individual to wager more or less than they would knowing at least an estimate of the probability. Increasing individualsâ€™ statistical literacy and knowledge of probability through classroom applications, textbook examples, and other methods, would lead to more informed citizens, capable of making more informed decisions.

• Misuse of statistics
Misuse of statistics
A misuse of statistics occurs when a statistical argument asserts a falsehood. In some cases, the misuse may be accidental. In others, it is purposeful and for the gain of the perpetrator. When the statistical reason involved is false or misapplied, this constitutes a statistical fallacy.The false...

• Lies, damned lies, and statistics
Lies, damned lies, and statistics
"Lies, damned lies, and statistics" is a phrase describing the persuasive power of numbers, particularly the use of statistics to bolster weak arguments...

• How to Lie with Statistics
How to Lie with Statistics
How to Lie with Statistics is a book written by Darrell Huff in 1954 presenting an introduction to statistics for the general reader. Huff was a journalist who wrote many "how to" articles as a freelancer, but was not a statistician....

, the best selling statistics book
Book
A book is a set or collection of written, printed, illustrated, or blank sheets, made of hot lava, paper, parchment, or other materials, usually fastened together to hinge at one side. A single sheet within a book is called a leaf or leaflet, and each side of a leaf is called a page...

of all time, by Darrell Huff
Darrell Huff
Darrell Huff was an American writer, and is best known as the author of How to Lie with Statistics , the best-selling statistics book of the second half of the twentieth century....

• SRTL: The International Research Forums on Statistical Reasoning, Thinking, and Literacy
The International Research Forums on Statistical Reasoning, Thinking, and Literacy
The International Statistical Reasoning, Thinking, and Literacy Research Forums began in 1999 to foster current and innovative research studies that examine the nature and development of statistical literacy, statistical reasoning, and statistical thinking, and to explore the challenge posed to...