Learning to speak data

Statistics is the new grammar, writes Clive Thompson in the May issue of Wired. The statistically illiterate can’t understand public policy debates, which increasingly come down to what the data mean. Is the economy improving? Do childhood vaccines increase the risk of autism? Is global warming for real?  Is the latest political poll reliable?

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.

Schools teach probability — red, blue and yellow marbles in a bag — and “a bit of basic data analysis,” responds Mr. D of I Want to Teach Forever. But math teachers often gloss over “problem solving, finding reasonable answers and determining what data is needed to solve a problem.”

Aside from problem solving skills, we don’t spend enough time on proportional thinking (everything from using percents to measurement and scale) and just plain number sense that everyone could use on a daily basis. What we’re left with is a nation of people who fear math, who run to a calculator for the most rudimentary problems.

Some people live the data-driven life, writes Gary Wolf in the New York Times Magazine.

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