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Stats for Scientists Proposal Draws ASA’s Attention

1 May 2013 3 Comments
Jeffrey A. Myers, ASA Public Relations Coordinator

    A new proposal to establish a statistics curriculum within the chemistry departments of U.S.-based colleges and universities to address the specific needs of chemistry majors has drawn the attention of the American Statistical Association.

    The proposal was first published in the January issue of the Journal of Chemical Education and
    then reported in summary by Science magazine in the Editor’s Choice section of its February 8 issue.

    In making his case in the Journal of Chemical Education article, Nicholas Schlotter, an assistant professor of chemistry at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota, writes: “Because of the large number of courses required for the undergraduate chemistry major, it seems unlikely that requiring a course on statistics will be practical at most institutions. Additionally, it is unlikely that the typical high-school education will address the needed statistics or the software training to prepare students for the chemistry courses. Therefore, the chemistry faculty must teach the statistics needed by the majors.”

    Schlotter goes on to advocate: “The chemistry community needs to have a discussion about statistics and to decide what statistics should be taught to the undergraduate chemistry major. A detailed statistics curriculum needs to be embedded in chemistry courses. … All of the stakeholders should be involved in the discussion: undergraduate programs, graduate programs, businesses, national science organizations, professional programs, and government laboratories.”

    While the ASA is applauding Schlotter’s acknowledgement that statistics is essential to chemistry science students, it also is weighing in to ensure the ASA and statistics community is a part of the discussion about the best ways to meet the statistical needs in the chemistry curriculum.

    In a letter to the editor of Science, ASA President Marie Davidian wrote, “We applaud [Schlotter’s] recognition of the importance of statistics and [Schlotter’s] call for a discussion of integrating this principle within the undergraduate chemistry curriculum.

    “We welcome the opportunity to look for ways to meet the statistical needs in the chemistry curriculum through collaborations between statisticians and chemists. It can be done; successful models can be emulated. A national panel of statistics and chemistry educators to develop collaborative solutions could be a good way forward.”

    Separately, a specially appointed ASA working group is reaching out to the Journal of Chemical Education, Schlotter, and other chemistry educators to establish a framework for collaboration between statisticians and chemists.

    In a planned letter to the editor of the chemical publication, the workgroup’s members write, “Many scientists identify knowledge of statistics as a crucial need for students’ quantitative skills because statistical reasoning is pervasive in current scientific practice and is expected to increase as reliance on data-driven methods becomes even more prevalent.”

    The group also notes that interest in statistics is growing at the high-school level. “Statistics has not traditionally been part of the mathematics curriculum, but the pre-college scene is changing dramatically: Forty-five states have adopted the Common Core State Standards, which has a strong statistics strand in grades 6–12, [and] there has been a dramatic rise in the number of U.S. high-school students completing Advanced Placement Statistics.”

    In fact, the number of high-school students taking the Advanced Placement Statistics exam is up 23,000 students since 2011, and last year surpassed the 1 million mark since the program was established in 1997.

    The ASA will continue to monitor this emerging issue and work with Schlotter, chemistry and statistics educators, and chemistry organizations to develop a statistics curriculum that will ensure chemistry students receive the training in statistics principles they need to be successful in their careers.

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    • Ben said:

      Interesting state of things. One of the most concerning quotes was, “Therefore, the chemistry faculty must teach the statistics needed by the majors.” Most chemistry faculty don’t have a solid understanding of statistics, so pushing the instruction of it onto them is not in the best interest of their students.

      It’s a positive growth move that this lack of statistical understanding has been acknowledged, but the methods to improve the status quo are not very robust or effective.

    • Sastry said:

      Chemistry professors should teach Statistics, Calculus, Algebra, English, Physics, etc. needed for their own Chemistry students.

      Physics professors should teach Statistics, Calculus, Algebra, English, Chemistry, etc. needed for their own Physics students.

      Statistics professors should teach Calculus, Algebra, English, Physics, Chemistry, etc. needed for their own Statistics Students.

      Can be done!

      However, is that the best utilization of time and expertise of the faculty? I applaud ASA and its members’ efforts reaching out to other sciences, engineering and education and for providing appropriate foundation needed in each area.

    • Margaret Nemeth said:

      I find it refreshing that Schlotter has recognized the need for statistics education within the field of chemistry. I provided statistical support for chemists (process, formulation, analytical) within industry for many years and most chemists never were exposed to statistics during their college education. I agree with Ben that current chemistry professors do not have the skill base to teach statistics. However, this can be remedied if chemistry departments partner with statistics departments and the ASA.