Report from one of the sessions at the RSS 2017 Conference. More reports of conference sessions are listed here.
How can we communicate data and what they mean to the public? This question was addressed by a Tuesday session in the RSS conference’s Communicating Statistics stream, titled: Understanding and communication of statistics.
The session focused on communication of statistics so they are better understood by the public. Rebecca Goldin (who later delivered the conference’s President’s Invited address on the same issue) argued that because the public have so little interest or access to statistical education, that the media plays an essential role in discussing statistics as they will arguably have more influence than the scientific community. Rebecca’s organisation, STATS, has made efforts to encourage and improve statistical literacy in the US media.
The RSS has been making similar efforts in the UK with its journalism training; this was covered by RSS head of statistical literacy and education, Scott Keir, in his talk on the work the Society has been involved in to improve statistical literacy in the UK. Scott's talk was followed by RSS president David Spiegelhalter, who acknowledged that the terminology in statistics is potentially baffling to those not formally schooled in statistics. He proposed developing a resource that explains statistical concepts and terms, from tweetable soundbites to more extensive explanations. This, however, will need considerable collaborative effort.
A discussion followed that discussed the problems of getting people in different professions to appreciate the value of statistics in their field. Despite many statistical concepts being applicable across disciplines, professionals tend only to engage once you give case studies and examples relevant to their professions. Scott Keir talked about a guide for barristers currently in development that very much takes this approach.
This session was called Understanding and communication of statistics.