There is a perfect storm in America. “Fake news,” perhaps the greatest linguistic contribution Donald Trump has made to the English language during his presidency, continues to drive political polarization. The problem, of course, is that partisans differ about what is fake. Polemics trump analysis and, in an age of 24/7 cable news and almost instantaneous social media, few both to analyze the statistics driving arguments.
Perhaps the most memorable book I read in college was the 1954 classic How to Lie with Statistics. It was a tongue-in-cheek account of how journalists and academics often twist or misuse statistics. Peter Salovey, the professor who assigned it (and now the president of Yale University), insisted his class read the book to learn to read more critically. It was one thing to read about how people manipulate statistics, but it was another thing to understand the theory and method behind more complex statistical analysis. In high school, I competed in the science fair circuit, and in college, I pursued a biology degree.
I often had to run statistical analyses, but the theory behind the computer analyses and regressions was beyond me; it still is. I may be a cynical reader, but I am far from statistically literate. I suspect most Americans are.
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