|Statistics are collected on most aspects of Australian life. They capture vital information about our economic performance, the well-being of our population and the condition of our environment. They form the basis of our democracy and provide us with the necessary knowledge to assess the health and progress of our society.
We rely on those statistics being visible, accessible and robust, and we rely on statistically literate people making best use of the information to determine our future action, presenting clear and convincing arguments and developing 'evidence-based policy' to guide our decision making.
Statistics tell interesting stories and enable us to make sense of the world. They are indicators of change and allow meaningful comparisons to be made. In order to make sound judgements, it is essential that we are equipped with the very best knowledge for research, planning and decision-making purposes. While it may be the issues rather than the statistics as such that grab people's attention, it should be recognised that it is the statistics that inform the issues.
Statistical literacy, then, is the ability to accurately understand, interpret and evaluate the data that inform these issues.
Why is it important to be statistically literate?
The provision of accurate and authoritative statistical information strengthens our society. It provides a basis for decisions to be made on public policy, such as determining electoral boundaries and where to locate schools and hospitals. It also allows businesses to know their market, grow their business, and improve their marketing strategies by targeting their activities appropriately.
In today's information-rich society, being statistically literate will give you an edge. It will make you more attractive to future employers and put you ahead of your competitors in the workplace.
Broadening your statistical knowledge will enable you to engage in discussions and decision-making processes with authority, accuracy and integrity.
Are you statistically literate?
If you are uncomfortable with using statistics, you are not alone. Many people shy away from using statistics because of their perceived complexity. People may:
- not know where to look to find the information they need
- be unfamiliar with the terminology
- lack confidence in their ability to make sense of the numbers.
You do not have to be an expert at maths to work with statistics. Statistical literacy is not about being adept at formulating or understanding the methodology behind the numbers. Rather, it is the ability to interpret the numbers and communicate the information contained therein effectively.
Statistics simply help to tell a story. They may be presented in different ways, such as tables, graphs, maps or text, but they are not scary or boring if you know what they mean.
Increased use of statistics does not automatically lead to an increased understanding of statistics. In this information-rich age, it is important for individuals to be independent, critical thinkers, and statistical literacy is fundamental to achieving this.
Be sceptical. Consider what spin may have been put on the data. What has really been said and what has been left out?
Be aware. Ignoring definitions or comparing statistics inappropriately can result in misinterpretation of the data.
Be critical. Analyse and interpret information and data to draw your own conclusions.
To find out if you're statistically literate - take our quiz!