Statistics in society: three case studies in the UK. Southampton, GB, Southampton Statistical Sciences Research Institute, 38pp.
(S3RI Working Papers, Applications and Policy, A11/01).
Public statistics are increasingly produced to facilitate public accountability and engagement at various levels of society i.e. to empower citizens. However, the impact of these statistics and their comprehension has not been systematically studied, indeed the arena in which statisticians work is generally more technical and less oriented to public scrutiny. We explore the role of statistical literacy in citizenship and provide explanations as to how this is necessary to live up to normative ideals. Case studies show how statistics can create social reality, both in terms of categories and numerical summaries, although there may be more than one ‘data story’ derived from the same information, as seen in the case of Mid Staffordshire Foundation Health Trust. Furthermore, public interpretations of these data stories need not be accurate and are rarely appropriate in their criticism of the objectivity represented by statistical analysis. Statistical description for a public audience requires much more than reporting figures relating to the phenomenon being described: such a presentation can be misleading or exclusive as well as restrict political discourse.
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