“I can count to 16 but statistics is really hard”

How can we prepare for the next pandemic? My answer: We need to reduce “statistical innumeracy” both in the general public and in experts. Let me explain.

Did you know that rats can count to 16? But they don’t seem to be able to deal with probabilities and percentages. Even small children learn how to count effortlessly, but statistics is a whole different story.

From an evolutionary perspective, the ability to count has been part of our history for a long time. It’s wired into our brain. But statistics have only become a part of our everyday life in the second half of the 20th century.

Newspapers are filled with probabilities and percentages these days. People like to think that they understand what they read or hear in the news, but when asked to properly explain how high a certain risk is or what a probability means, the answers are wildly incorrect for the majority of people.

Now you might put your hope into experts. Maybe they know what’s best for us and will act in our best interest? Unfortunately, there are studies that show that most experts are not properly skilled in statistics either.

This inability is called “statistical innumeracy” and most people aren’t aware that they have it.

The good news: We are not rats. We can learn statistics with a few hours of proper training.

I dream of a world in which every adult is able to read the newspaper and to properly understand risk and probabilities. We need people to be able to think for themselves instead of just relying on expert opinion. The world would be a much better place.

Let’s improve statistical numeracy. It all starts in school.

Better education, better future.

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