Statistical literacy initiatives

We work to improve statistical literacy in key professions, which will lead to wider public benefit. These areas include:

  • Media
  • Politicians and policymakers
  • Law
  • Education

We have also worked, proactively and reactively, with several other areas of interest.

The media

We strive to improve the confidence and skills of journalists in handling numbers and questioning statistical claims. We have made considerable progress, including some advance in achieving longer-term change.

Through the Science Journalism Training Programme, we have developed free online courses for journalists on science and statistics, maintain a network of volunteers to deliver in-house training to journalists and journalism students, conducted a training needs analysis of journalists for science and reviewed statistics training in UK journalism. Our Statistical Excellence in Journalism awards provide recognition for the best work. We support the Science Media Centre Before the Headlines service, to help journalists understand the statistical elements of scientific and medical stories.

Politicians and policymakers

Our work with politicians and policymakers seeks to improve the standing and use of statistics in policymaking, and extend the skills of civil servants in their handling and use of statistics.
Initiatives include:

  • The Parliament Counts campaign, which called on RSS members and supporters to get in touch with parliamentary candidates in their area during the election campaign, asking them to agree to attend the training sessions if elected.
  • Regular events in Parliament and at party conferences raising the profile of statistics and statistical literacy among MPs, Lords and their staff. Our sections and local groups have also contributed, for example the event ‘Scotland’s referendum: statistical perspectives’ was held near the Scottish Parliament on 26 March 2014 by our Glasgow and Edinburgh Local Groups and our Business and Industrial Section, discussing statistical aspects of the referendum and its potential consequences.
  • Developing the skills of civil service staff and policymakers through events and workshops

Previous projects have included a pilot statistician-Parliament pairing scheme in association with the House of Commons Library and the Government Statistical Service.

Education

Our education work covers primary, secondary and higher education. Everyone needs to be able to use and interpret statistical information, to benefit their studies (regardless of subject), their everyday lives, their engagement in the democratic process, and their future careers.

Our education policy work highlights the need for teacher supply, training, and CPD to ensure sufficient availability of teachers with knowledge of statistics, its application to the discipline, and understanding of how to effectively teach data handling and statistics. We contribute to consultations regarding the content key qualifications and produce policy and research to influence curriculum development and delivery.

We support teaching through a range of initiatives, including the William Guy Lecture, providing teaching resources and our e-teacher membership scheme.

A working group on statistical literacy and school governance has been setup following a session at the RSS Conference 2015.

More information is available on our education page.

Law

Our Statistics and Law Section seeks to improve the understanding and use of statistics in the administration of justice, both civil and criminal. It evolved from a working group of the same name which has produced detailed guidance for judges, lawyers, forensic scientists and expert witnesses, with the general theme of ‘Communicating and interpreting statistical evidence in the administration of criminal justice’.

We are also developing projects with the Advocacy Training Council, and are holding a round table discussion with the Legal Education Foundation on statistical understanding in law, at Easter 2016.

Public and wider society

We seek to increase wider public understanding of statistics through a range of projects including:

  • Our Statistical Ambassador project is developing and supporting a cohort of statisticians to engage with public audiences through the media and public events.
  • We encourage members to engage with the public and hold professional development sessions for all members at our RSS Conference.
  • Our public event programme has included events at the Hay Festival, Kings College London, the RSS and other venues and continues to develop.
  • Our 2013 research with Ipsos MORI and Kings College London on trust and understanding in statistics, and public misperceptions, gained considerable media interest, and continues to do so. The Work and Pensions Committee cited the research in their May 2014 report on Fraud and error in the benefits system.
  • StatsLife – our news website publishes articles about the importance of statistical literacy and statistical thinking, and has resources on how to promote and communicate statistics.
  • Significance magazine and website has popular articles exploring the power of statistics in everyday life.