the application of logical principles, rigorous standards of evidence, and careful reasoning to the analysis and discussion of claims, beliefs, and issues
Each day people are inundated with statistical information from advertisements ("4 out of 5 dentists recommend"), news reports ("opinion polls show the incumbent leading by four points"), and even general conversation ("half the time I don't know what you're talking about"). Experts and advocates often use numerical claims to bolster their arguments, and statistical literacy is a necessary skill to help one decide what experts mean and which advocates to believe. This is important because statistics can be made to produce misrepresentations of data that may seem valid. The aim of statistical literacy is to improve the public understanding of numbers and figures.
For example, results of opinion polling are often cited by news organizations, but the quality of such polls varies considerably. Some understanding of the statistical technique of sampling is necessary in order to be able to correctly interpret polling results. Sample sizes may be too small to draw meaningful conclusions, and samples may be biased. The wording of a poll question may introduce a bias, and thus can even be used intentionally to produce a biased result. Good polls use unbiased techniques, with much time and effort being spent in the design of the questions and polling strategy. Statistical literacy is necessary to understand what makes a poll trustworthy and to properly weigh the value of poll results and conclusions.
The essential skill of critical thinking will go a long way in helping one to develop statistical literacy. Critical thinking is a way of deciding whether a claim is always true, sometimes true, partly true, or false. The list of core critical thinking skills includes observation, interpretation, analysis, inference, evaluation, explanation, and meta-cognition. There is a reasonable level of consensus that an individual or group engaged in strong critical thinking gives due consideration to establish:
Evidence through observation,
Relevant criteria for making the judgment well,
Applicable methods or techniques for forming the judgment, and
Applicable theoretical constructs for understanding the problem and the question at hand.
Critical thinking calls for the ability to:
Recognize problems, to find workable means for meeting those problems,
Understand the importance of prioritization and order of precedence in problem solving,
Gather and marshal pertinent (relevant) information,
Recognize unstated assumptions and values,
Comprehend and use language with accuracy, clarity, and discernment,
Interpret data, to appraise evidence and evaluate arguments,
Recognize the existence (or non-existence) of logical relationships between propositions,
Draw warranted conclusions and generalizations,
Put to test the conclusions and generalizations at which one arrives,
Reconstruct one's patterns of beliefs on the basis of wider experience, and
Render accurate judgments about specific things and qualities in everyday life.