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Dan Meyer: Math class needs a makeover

Dan Meyer: Math class needs a makeover
Related:  statistics fun, statistical literacy & science litteracy

The 20 most-watched TEDx talks so far News X marks the spot: This week’s TEDxTalks Each week, TEDx chooses four of our favorite talks, highlighting just a few of the enlightening speakers from the TEDx community, and its diverse constellation of ideas worth spreading. Below, give this week’s talks a listen. Fighting Duchenne muscular dystrophy: Dr. Benjy Seckler at TEDxBerkshires Potential medicines, especially for rare genetic diseases, take years to […] Global Issues 4 TEDxTalks on how the world could end today (but, chances are, won’t) Well, it’s December 21st, 2012, in EST time zones and, if you’re reading this, the world has not ended. Chances are, we'd all benefit from a statistics lesson Vincent and Fast Eddie aka Tom Cruise and Paul Newman in The Color Of Money Photograph: Allstar/Touchstone/Sportsphoto Ltd./Allstar Today, in case you didn't know, is World Statistics Day, a UN-sponsored event celebrating the "many contributions and achievements of official statistics". I'm not sure why the UN felt the need to emphasise that only official statistics would be honoured, as if implying that unofficial statistics like your annual take-home salary or the number of women you've bedded are somehow less credible as contributions and achievements. Starting at the aesthetically pleasing time of 20:10 (on 20/10/2010), the Royal Statistical Society Centre for Statistical Education kicks off a 10-year statistical literacy campaign, getstats, aimed at helping Britons understand numbers about numbers, so that we can make better-informed choices and live better lives as a result. One such tool of their trade might be a set of non-transitive dice.

10 TED talks about the beauty - and difficulty of being creative Using Mammography to Screen Women for Breast Cancer May Be Less Effective In Reducing Death Rates Than Previously Estimated - September 22, 2010 -2010 Releases - Press Releases For immediate release: Wednesday, September 22, 2010 Boston, MA — A new study led by Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) researchers has found that a breast cancer screening program in Norway, which made mammographic screening available to women between the ages of 50 and 69, resulted in a 10% decrease in breast cancer deaths in that age group. “The observed reduction in death from breast cancer after introduction of the mammography screening program was far less than we expected,” said lead author Mette Kalager, a visiting scientist at HSPH and a surgeon at Oslo University Hospital in Norway. “The results showed that other factors, such as enhanced breast cancer awareness and improved treatment, actually had a greater effect on reducing mortality from breast cancer.” The study appears in the September 23, 2010 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine. “Only one third of the mortality reduction we observed in the 20-year period was associated with the screening program.

The simple truth about statistics | Matt Parker | Science It is the British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli who is famously credited with the phrase: "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics" but the expression has been around almost as long as the word statistics (first coined in 1749 for those wondering). What is it about numerical data that sparks such distrust in people? Partly, there seems to be an assumption that anything involving numbers is an dark art that needs to be left to experts. Even when statistics are carefully checked, and don't have the decimal point equivalent of a typo, things don't always look right. Monday 9 August: "Breast cancer rates in the UK are more than four times higher than those in eastern Africa, the World Cancer Research Fund has revealed." Thursday 13 August: "Death rates from breast cancer have fallen more dramatically in the UK than any other European country, cancer researchers have said." Matt Parker's website is Stand-up Mathematician

Do we need a statistics campaign? David Walker is director of gestats. A former journalist, he is chair of the methods and infrastructure committee at the Economic and Social Research Council. Getstats is both the issue and the midwife of a growing national consensus. There is deepening agreement that the UK, and its constituent territories, need a more numerate population …if the economy is to be rebalanced, productivity to increase, families and households to cope with the quantities of modern life and together we are to talk to one another sensibly about risk and probability and so devise lasting policies for climate change, energy and ageing. The gestats campaign is backed by the Royal Statistical Society and supported financially by the Nuffield Foundation, which has a long track record in the field. But we are less a spearhead than an exercise in joining together existing initiatives and projects, of which there are many. Maths and Growth The case for more and better numerical capacity has been well made.

A formula for justice | Law It's not often that the quiet world of mathematics is rocked by a murder case. But last summer saw a trial that sent academics into a tailspin, and has since swollen into a fevered clash between science and the law. At its heart, this is a story about chance. And it begins with a convicted killer, "T", who took his case to the court of appeal in 2010. Among the evidence against him was a shoeprint from a pair of Nike trainers, which seemed to match a pair found at his home. But more importantly, as far as mathematicians are concerned, the judge also ruled against using similar statistical analysis in the courts in future. "The impact will be quite shattering," says Professor Norman Fenton, a mathematician at Queen Mary, University of London. Specifically, he means a statistical tool called Bayes' theorem. The data needed to run these kinds of calculations, though, isn't always available. "It's potentially very damaging," agrees University College London psychologist, Dr David Lagnado.

Is this the worst government statistic ever created? I forgot to post this column up last year. It’s a fun one: the Department for Communities and Local Government have produced a truly farcical piece of evidence, and promoted it very hard, claiming it as good stats. I noticed the column was missing today, because Private Eye have published on the same report in their current issue, finding emails that have gone missing through FOI applications, and other nonsense. That part is all neatly summarised online in the Local Government Chronicle here. Is this the worst government statistic ever created? Every now and then, the government will push a report that’s so assinine, and so thin, you have to check it’s not a spoof. A 20% saving on the £50bn council procurement budget would be awesome. Government ministers have an army of intelligent, technical staff, with full access to every speck of data, ready to produce research. I downloaded the “Opera Solutions White Paper“. The “full report” is six pages long, not including the cover.

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