Thursday, October 21, 2010

Belated world statistics day ruminations

Yesterday, my wedding anniversary took precedence over World Statistics Day. So here are my belated thoughts on the subject.

First, I'm very happy that statistical reasoning is getting more airtime in the news. It's about time. While not everyone needs to be a statistician, I think it is within everyone's capability of learning enough about statistics to understand the increasing number of statistical arguments (and lack thereof) in the world around us. For example, the chart in this image was made by my 4 year old son. Certainly, his father is a statistician, but there is no reason why first and second graders can't make similar charts, and start to draw conclusions from them. Later grades can build on this exercise so that a basic understanding of statistics is achievable by the end of high school. The alternative is that too many people (even in scientific disciplines) fall vulnerable to anecdotal or even superstitious arguments. (Case in point: Jenny McCarthy's anti-vaccine campaign.)

I am pleased that SAS is pushing their educational agenda for mathematics and technology at the secondary school level, and Revolution Analytics has made their premium Revolution R product free for all academics. I, as these companies, have been displeased with the state of statistical and technological education in the grade schools and even undergraduate schools. Let's all work together to make this important tool accessible to everybody, as statistical reasoning is set to become an essential part of civil participation.