All arguments from all spheres of society are at odds as interests broaden and become more complicated. To demonstrate our objectivity and veracity, we utilize statistics, which is a branch of mathematics dealing with the collection, analysis, interpretation, and organization of data. Applying statistics, the information of social groups is expressed in numbers, but we often make partial conclusions only with one-sided information controlled to one’s advantage. Benjamin Disraeli, a British statesman, once said that there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics, which can be understood in the same context.
The author, a specialist who has utilized statistics in various industries for decades, aims for readers to reach the state of thinking statistically. The ability to process and analyze data, which is referred to as statistical literacy, is crucial in the current era where data and information are exploding like floods. The suggestions to grow statistical literacy are as follows.
First of all, the writer recommends that we become familiar with principles such as how to collect, organize, and interpret data and its relevant terms. Getting used to the principles and terminology is like meeting a new world, but if you are not comfortable, you will avoid and reject statistics. By understanding the basic knowledge of statistics, you will have an easier time reaching the ultimate goal of statistical thinking.
Second, approach the object from multiple angles. Statistical thinking is based on dividing the object because it has a different value to different people in real life. If the accumulated data has the same value regardless of the consumer, it will lose its own value. Then, what do we have to do to grasp all of the fragments? We need to understand the diverse relations among each factor. Causality that is tangled up within certain issues raises confusion and makes it difficult to judge the validity of each position. On the other hand, precise analysis of causality influences significantly on making accurate and convincing decisions. That is, the proper variables or optimal conditions can be found by tracking the causation.
However, if you ignore or underestimate causality and keep making predictions and judgements rashly, you will face a direct crisis. This can be found in the case of the elementary teacher appointment disaster, which is covered in the cover story. In this case, the origin of confusion lies in the previous governments’ predictions with distance from reality. As one of their jobs is creating policies for the youth, the former government increased the number of people who enter universities of education and who passed the elementary teacher recruitment examination, without regarding the falling birth rate. It is unnatural to misjudge the situation that the number of people in queue cannot but decline as long as the birth rate and population of students rise or educational shake-up happens. Then, why was this possible? It is possible because opposite outcomes can come out from the same data depending on our perspective, position, or approaching method.
In consequence, uncertainties must follow in prediction even though we access data as carefully as possible. Particularly, South Korea has more unstable uncertainties due to the quick democratization and extremely competitive social atmosphere, which has created multiple variables and a gap between each social group: government, parties, corporations, civic organizations, family members, etc. Let me give an example of this from the cover story. While the total supply of elementary teachers is easily predictable due to the fixed quota of certain universities, demand is up to the state of politics. Actually, national finances determined for education varies widely with the pledges of the government.
Having been published 10 years ago, the exact case that fits in recent phenomenon could not be found. However, the reason I could point out an intrinsic message from the certification examination issue was because statistical thinking is applicable to a case especially to social issues. In addition, most of the contents of the book consisted of a variety of example cases so that it was beneficial to develop how to think and process statistically.
Although we learned the subjects of probabilities and statistics in school, there are few of us who actually accept statistics in daily life or utilize its knowledge. The literacy of statistics required for the general population does not mesh with theoretical and mathematical logic since the complexity of realistic social phenomenon cannot be covered only with mathematical assumptions.
We often say that you can see as much as you know in the case of enjoying cultural properties or works of art, and it seems to be applicable when you observe social phenomena as well. Your viewpoint of the world can be expanded if you fully understand the basic mechanism of the statistics.
Reporter of National Section