Calling on Statistics

Why we might want to rethink our math education priorities

Calling on Statistics
Having problems deciding whether or not to get vaccinated? A statistics course might be your best bet. [Credit: Philip A. McDaniel,]
By | Posted February 12, 2010
Posted in: elucidata, Physical Science Blog
Tags: ,

Earlier this month, the medical journal Lancet made the rare move to retract a pivotal 1998 study that linked vaccinations with autism.  Despite years of solid evidence that scientists cannot find such a connection, anti-vaccination advocates would have you believe otherwise. You want to do what’s best for your kids ― but how can you really know whom to trust?

For starters, take a statistics class.

If you did, you could better understand what what comprises a well-designed study (double-blind, placebo-controlled, large sample sizes) and also what types of results are truly meaningful. You could look at the data and determine yourself how much faith you have in the results of any treatment study.

Math professor Arthur Benjamin even thinks schools should prioritize statistics education over calculus.  I couldn’t agree more.  In fact, I’ve called upon my statistics education multiple times today, whereas I don’t remember when I last calculated the derivative of a function.

So go ― do yourself a favor and figure out standard deviations and p-values.  You’d be surprised how much they might help you through life.

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  1. I couldn’t agree more. I think it should be required that all journalists take statistics too and not just science journalists. One pet peeve I have is when an average is given without the standard deviation. The average alone is inadequate.

    Lisa Garbern, March 31, 2010 at 2:58 am
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