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Need for better statistical literacy

There is a growing need for better statistical literacy, seems to be a statement in discussions at the statistical world conference at Finlandia Hall on Tuesday. The statistical literacy of decision-makers and ordinary citizens alike needs improving.

Statistical literacy is addressed at the conference by Luigi Biggeri, President of the Italian Statistical Society, and Alberto Zuliani, President of the Italian National Statistical Institute (ISTAT). Although the fight against illiteracy has achieved considerable success under the leadership of UNESCO, little or no progress has been made in improving numeracy or statistical literacy. According to Biggeri and Zuliani, numeracy is the weakest component in the campaign against illiteracy despite its apparent centrality in people's everyday lives.

To an ordinary citizen, statistical literacy is important in two ways. It is a necessity for understanding everyday life, a prerequisite for making rational personal decisions and a means for implementing democratic control in public administration. On the other hand, the globalisation of the economy and the advancements in technology demand from employees ever improving statistical literacy, capability to read statistics and mastery of statistical reasoning. The labour markets offer numerous opportunities for those capable of statistical reasoning.

In public administration, statistical literacy is particularly necessary for those in management positions. Decentralisation of administrative decision-making and management by results require the development of efficient planning and monitoring systems supported by advanced statistical information systems.

According to Biggeri and Zuliani, statistical literacy does not mean in-depth understanding of statistics, which only a limited number of experts are capable of. Although knowledge of the basic concepts of statistics and probability are necessary for statistical literacy, understanding the contents of the information is, however, the most crucial element. One must have the ability to recognise the limitations of statistical data and the accuracy with which statistical results can be evaluated.

The presenters regard it especially important for statistical literacy skills to be improved among teachers, journalists and library officials, who constitute the main intermediary spreaders of statistical information.

160 presentations on Tuesday

A total of 160 presentations were made at the conference on Tuesday, on topics ranging between crucial issues for statistics in the next two decades, business and enterprise statistics, sports and tobacco statistics, statistical publishing, managing of response burden, statistics in biology and genetics, the information society, commercial data sources, measurement and valuation of household work and international comparability of statistics.

Wednesday's sessions will address topics like improving the quality of survey-based statistics, assessment and evaluation of student learning, environmental monitoring, measuring of poverty, educational statistics, statistics and the media, statistical approaches to genetic evolution, registers and surveys in health monitoring, small area statistics, critical problems in economic statistics and business and enterprise statistics.

Further information about the conference programme:

Jussi Melkas, tel. +358 9 1734 3200;
Virpi Viertola, tel. +358 50 568 7444;
Kristiina Niklander, tel. +358 50 373 6510

Short English abstracts at: http://www.stat.fi/isi99/proceedings.html


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