Everyone needs statistics

Everyone Should Learn Statistics writes Ed Sector’s Kevin Carey, after serving on a jury. The defense attorney tried to confuse the jury with bad statistics — or didn’t understand statistics himself.

Which is not surprising, given that statistics isn’t part of the standard curriculum schools require students to complete in order to get a high-school or college diploma. Math education is still largely interpreted as a progression through algebra and geometry to calculus. And I’m not against working harder to improve math education. But in terms of things you really need in order to make your way in modern society, statistics is way, way up there, above a lot of things that are currently lodged in the curriculum.

Carey provides a video of Donald Duck in Mathmagicland. I vividly remember watching this in seventh grade.

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  1. LSquared says:

    Unfortunately, you need rather a lot of algebra (and even calculus) to really learn statistics (how to do it). Which isn’t to say that you can’t learn about statistics with less background, but that’s a rather different class, and maybe it’s a business or social science class rather than a math class.

    • Roger Sweeny says:

      It would be a good idea for citizens to understand practical statistics. On the other hand, very few citizens use trigonometry or advanced algebra.

      If that stat course belongs in the social science department, perhaps schools should take away a year of the math requirement and add this particular social science one.

  2. Catherine says:

    But if everybody had a good grasp of statistics and probability, state lottery revenues would dry up! It’s for the children!!

  3. I agree with LSquared, I was in an engineer’s office the other day and there was a statistics textbook on his desk open to a part about calculating some sort of bi-linear correlation coefficient and it was full of dense algebra logarithms and other math.

    I’m afraid there would be no way to split statistics out by itself.

    (Loved the cartoon, by the way. Too bad nobody bothers with such nice work today. Maybe some rich person should hire Pixar to take over math education…

    • Roger Sweeny says:

      One can understand what a Gaussian (Normal) probability distribution is, where one is likely to encounter it, and why it matters. One can also integrate it. For the first three, you don’t need calculus. For the last, you do. The first three are useful for ordinary people to know. The last isn’t.

  4. Or as Mark Twain (or Shakespeare or the Bible) said: There are lies, damn lies, and statistics.

  5. Peace Corps says:

    Thanks for the video. I had a lot of students missing today because of sports activities, so I showed it to two of my classes. Two out of 11 students liked it, the rest ignored it. I loved it.

  6. Richard Aubrey says:

    I had a primitive stat class as part of a psych BA.
    I haven’t ever squared a chi. But it’s been useful when looking at what people want me to believe.
    Particularly the methodology.

  7. You don’t need to be a master statistcian to be able to interpret statistics. Certainly, a master statistcian would be able to, but that isn’t necessary. You just need to be taught how to read it. A minor introduction might suffice for that purpose.