It’s College Week at Slate: Click here for the thoughts of several prominent academics on improving undergraduate education, sometimes with the aid of a magic wand. I of course first read “Learn Statistics. Go Abroad” by K. Anthony Appiah. I completely agree with Dr. Appiah’s view that many college graduates can’t evaluate statistical arguments, leaving them unequipped to make informed decisions in areas such as public policy. He writes “So I favor making sure that someone teaches a bunch of really exciting courses, aimed at non-majors in the natural and social sciences, which display how mathematical modeling and statistical techniques can be used and abused in science and in discussions of public policy.” Again, I agree completely. But (as we’ve discussed here and here) teaching those kinds of courses is really hard, and probably requires that magic wand.

Better teaching can only go so far. The major issue is that college students need to take more math and science courses. Many programs do not require sufficient course work in the two areas.

Thanks for mentioning that article. I agree with both of the Professor's points, statistics and studying abroad. And indeed, no easy solution is in sight. Even if all humanities students are required to take one statistics class, that itself is not enough. There is a big gulf between statistics on paper and statistics in practice. No amount of classroom teaching will close this gulf, unfortunately. We can train technocrats who will robotically run regressions, churn out p-values, etc. but that does not *necessarily* involve statistical thinking.