This question appeared in a recent newspaper headline, but was based on a study involving only 14 people. How can we interpret the statistics behind headlines? What does statistically significant really mean? How do statistics get manipulated to further an agenda? The field of statistics is essential to understanding most current issues. It informs economics, health care, and environmental protection. Reid calls statistics mathematical social work; it helps science progress, so it is important to understand its power.
When the media presents findings as definitive, the public is misinformed, she said. "Statistics are not black and white. In reality, there is a lot of nuance, and in the most complex problems, there is ambiguity. One number won't tell you anything important about climate change or cancer. Instead, we have to ask: Where did the number come from? How can we find more data to better inform us? What could have gone wrong? Data is just the beginning of the conversation."
Reid will discuss the statistics behind current news stories, including: chocolate's impact on health, whether girls are really less capable in math than boys, the Netflix Grand Prize for movie recommendations, and the use of new on-line visuals to explain large data sets, such as how stimulus money is being spent.