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How Can We Raise Public Awareness of Statistics?

1 June 2012 1,524 views No Comment
The ASA will celebrate its 175th anniversary in 2014. In preparation, column “175”—written by members of the ASA’s 175th Anniversary Steering Committee and other ASA members—will chronicle the theme chosen for the celebration, status of preparations, activities to take place, and, best yet, how you can get involved in propelling the ASA toward its bicentennial.

Contributing Editors

Amy Herring is professor of biostatistics at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and past president of ENAR. She earned her doctorate in biostatistics from Harvard University and is a Fellow of the ASA.







Narayanaswamy Balakrishnan is a professor of statistics at McMaster University. He earned his PhD in statistics from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, India, and is a Fellow of the ASA and Institute of Mathematical Statistics and an elected member of the International Statistical Institute. He is editor of Communications in Statistics, and his research interests include distribution theory, ordered data analysis, censoring methodology, reliability, and survival analyses.

As we “Celebrate Our Past, Energize Our Future,” we reflect on a number of exciting opportunities that expand our “big tent” organization by bringing new attention to statistics via enhanced public visibility and education.

One of the ASA’s missions is to enhance statistics education at all levels. Outreach activities of the ASA have focused on educators as a means of reaching hundreds of thousands of K–12 students nationwide. Our members were critical in development of the AP Statistics exam, which was introduced in 1997 and was taken by more than 140,000 students in 2011 alone. The AP statistics course has increased the number of students who have a basic understanding of statistical concepts.

Currently leading the way in heightening the public’s awareness of statistical science is the Royal Statistical Society (RSS), which is in the midst of the getstats campaign.

    Getstats focuses on building the UK public’s confidence with numbers, data, and statistics. Their strongest focus has been on so-called ‘multiplier’ audiences, e.g. the media, teachers, members of parliament, and employers. Newspapers, such as The Guardian are building the concept of data journalism and exposing a wide audience to statistics through data blogs.

      “The Joy of Stats,” an award-winning one-hour documentary presented by Hans Rosling of the Karolinska Institute, has been featured multiple times on BBC4 and BBC2.

        David Spiegelhalter, the Winton Professor of the Public Understanding of Risk, is also active in efforts to increase statistical literacy. His website provides numerous useful tools for understanding and interpreting risk. With Mike Aitken at Cambridge, he has developed The Big Risk Test, designed to evaluate the public’s feelings about risk, knowledge of risk, and risk-taking behavior. Spiegelhalter has been featured on numerous television shows (ranging from game shows to science shows) and radio programs as part of his efforts. These efforts are critical in attracting new members to our “big tent” of individuals with interests in excellence in statistical research and practice.

        ASA members were instrumental in writing and reviewing the statistics content in the new Common Core State Standards for Mathematics, which will be adopted by most U.S. states and many territories. These standards give statistics a larger role in K–12 mathematics education and place more emphasis on statistical problem solving, conceptual understanding, and reasoning as described in the ASA’s Guidelines for Assessment and Instruction in Statistics Education (GAISE) Report: Pre-K–12 Curriculum Framework.

        A new publication, Bridging the Gap Between Common Core State Standards and Teaching Statistics, is designed to help educators bring statistics into elementary and middle school classrooms. The ASA also published Making Sense of Statistical Studies, which is a series of investigations to provide upper middle-school or high-school students valuable experience in designing and analyzing statistical studies.

        In addition to the publications the ASA maintains, the website STEW, Statistics Education Web, contains peer-reviewed lesson plans tied to the new standards.

        Free webinars on K–12 statistics education topics are available. This series was developed as part of the follow-up activities for the Meeting Within a Meeting (MWM) statistics workshop for math and science teachers. The next MWM statistics workshop and the Beyond AP Statistics (BAPS) workshop will be held this August in San Diego, California, in conjunction with the Joint Statistical Meetings.

        The U.S. version of Census at School is a free international classroom project that engages students in grades 4–12 in statistical problemsolving. Students complete an online survey, analyze their class census results, and compare their class with random samples of students in the U.S. and other participating countries. A number of online webinars and other resources have been made available by the ASA to help educators learn more about the project and how to explore the data. These and other K–12 education efforts of the ASA are described on the ASA website (PDF download). The ASA also offers annual poster and project competitions for K–12 students that offer opportunities for students to formulate questions and collect, analyze, and draw conclusions from data.

        Additional efforts to target children in K–12 (and even earlier) are needed to break down the remaining cultural barriers that discourage certain children, especially young girls, from developing a life-long love of the mathematical sciences. These efforts in statistical education, along with the upcoming educational campaign being planned (tentatively named StatSharp) will help us attract new students to explore our field further through undergraduate and graduate study.

        In addition to its educational activities, the ASA is actively working to heighten public awareness of statistics. In April, Science published ASA President-elect Marie Davidian and AAAS Statistics Section retiring chair Tom Louis’s editorial, “Why Statistics?” highlighting the importance of statistics to science and society and the rapidly growing need for more statisticians. ASA is busy preparing for the International Year of Statistics in 2013 and hoping for strong involvement from chapters and sections to raise awareness of our field. The series Statistical Significance highlights contributions that statisticians make in informing policy, improving health care, monitoring the environment, and improving national security.

        The ASA has been advising Congress on climate change issues with special emphasis on the roles of statisticians in advancing science and informing policy—see Richard Smith’s congressional briefing on relevant issues.

        The recent ASA video contest, “Promoting the Practice and Profession of Statistics,” raised enthusiasm for our field; these videos have been viewed over 15,000 times on YouTube.

        Members also are encouraged to join the Media Experts list to help journalists translate statistical results into lay language.

        How can we better raise public awareness of statistics and “energize our future”? Please send your suggestions to ASA Executive Director Ron Wasserstein (ron@amstat.org). We look forward to hearing from you!

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