Saturday, February 11, 2012

Numeracy: The educational gift that keeps on giving?

This is about what we used to call numeric literacy:

I have problems with using the word "numeracy" to mean "numeric literacy", but I can adapt. To me, the word "numeracy" means "of or relating to numbers"; therefore, to be numerate means to be of or relating to numbers, and that doesn't make sense. 

This spasm of reflexive linguistic conservatism will pass and then we can get to the point...

Numeric literacy (however you name it) results in better decisions. Those who are numerically literate are better able to understand information that's represented by quantities and numbers, and not be confused by sloppy descriptions and poor representations. They have better outcomes in health care, work and other areas where decision-making really pays off. 

The fun part is, that this article's writer makes the point that the spin doctors are gonna pounce on this, as if they haven't already:

"This has implications for how policy makers and others should communicate about the risks of medicines, earthquakes, climate change, and the stock market."

Caveat emptor, from here on out!

Make your decisions emotionally if you must, but get the data first, so at least you can really see what you're risking. 

Then, remember your fifth grade math and see how the numbers add up. (The kinds of statistics that get published in the news rarely require anything more, so don't let the math intimidate you.) That intellectual integrity can save your life.