Seminar Details

Seminar Details


Feb 22

3:30 am

Statistics 100, Numbers and Reasons: A New Undergraduate Introduction to Statistical Science

Fred Bookstein


University of Washington - Department of Statistics

Most undergraduates who take a statistics course take only one. Over the last three years I have been encouraged by Dean's offices here and in Vienna to design and teach a new version of that single shot. The course, called "Numbers and Reasons" and taught in English at both universities, is based on a syllabus you may find interesting.

Statistics 100 (as Arts & Sciences refers to it) explores the problems and paradoxes of where numbers come from and how they work to drive valid inferences about the state of the natural and the social world. Like other good undergraduate introductory courses, Stats 100 teaches not methods but methodology, the rules and norms of good reasoning in its domain. (High school is for teaching facts, college for teaching the evaluation of claims about facts.) There is no textbook yet. Instead, students read from a wide range of primary scientific sources selected to suit this pedagogy. (For instance, the one-page 1953 Watson-Crick article on the Double Helix, or Stanley Milgram's publications on his experimental studies of obedience in the 1960's.) There is a surprising coherence to the resulting cognitive style, which inculcates a principled skepticism within reach of most American undergraduates. The diverse examples demonstrate the philosophical and empirical rules of successful quantitative methodology and its critique in discipline after discipline.

This syllabus does not much overlap the contents of any existing textbook, and so I am writing one of my own, not so much for my undergraduates as for my colleagues in this room. If this material belongs at the core of the way we teach undergraduates, either at large public universities or in small liberal-arts schools, then we need to teach our graduate students how to teach it, a skill that is otherwise unrelated to the technical expertise we are trying to teach those same students. So today's talk is intended ultimately at adding a concern for undergraduate pedagogy to our department's self-image and our public presentations. It is, after all, the only context in which most of our public encounters us.