Statistics has not been a part of the typical liberal arts curriculum. After an examination of some central features of both liberal arts education and statistics, it is argued that statistics can play a strong role in liberal arts education, in part because of the advances that have taken place in computer technology.…
… For many statisticians, our field becomes more than the rules
and methods of dealing with data; it becomes a way of acting and thinking
about the world. We live in a stochastic world where events are governed
by a complex structure of probabilities. All of the seemingly random events
that take place around us in our social, biological and physical world
make for a confused and chaotic picture. But there are regularities in
randomness, and it is statistics that enables us to study and gain understanding
of these regularities.
Statisticians realize this, and we use statistical methods in our professional lives to help scientists and policymakers in their work. But more than that, statistical training contributes to an understanding of the world around us.…
The ability to live and function with limited information is an important lesson learned from statistics. Rarely do we have the complete information that would seem necessary for perfect inference about the world. Decisions and inferences are based instead on limited and incomplete information and statistics teaches us how to live with and use the available information. Knowledge of statistics offers a person a better way to understand – and therefore a better way to deal with – the uncertainties that surround us in our daily lives.…
In short, statistics concerns itself with how we can gain from limited information an understanding of the seemingly random world around us. … According to this view, statistics is essential for our understanding of the empirical world. If the purpose of liberal arts education is to prepare us to function as members of society, it follows that statistics is an essential part of liberal arts education.…
We need to teach more statistical thinking and less statistical methodology when teaching statistics as part of the liberal arts curriculum. What happens now is that our concern with methods does not leave room for the students to develop the ability to think about the world in a statistical way.…
… Only over a period of time did all of these various methods and
techniques come together in a stochastic view of the world and of the role
played by statistics in providing an understanding of how this world functions.
Perhaps in our teaching of statistics to liberal arts students, it is time
to shorten the path through the methods and get directly to the heart of
One particular reason why this may be more feasible now – in a way it was not just a few years ago – is the progress that has been made is statistical computing. The statistical computer packages have become so user friendly that they can be used with only minimal instruction. The changes now possible in our teaching can be liberating as well as dangerous.…
In conclusion, statistics has much to offer to liberal arts education. Liberal arts education is not a static list of classical subjects; it is an education offering the best of what the arts and sciences, including statistics, currently provide so that students can develop an understanding of themselves and the society in which they live.
Iverson, Gudmund R. “Statistics in Liberal Arts Education,” The American Statistician, February 1985, Vol. 39, No. 1. Pp 17-19.