Throughout 2020 I struggled to understand the graphs and statistics presented by scientists and politicians both on television and in the press. Many news journalists and commentators often didn’t appear any more knowledgeable than I was. The two people who helped me, and I am sure many others, better understand the figures and how to judge risk were Tim Harford and David Spiegelhalter. I also finally went back to some books by the mathematician Ian Stewart which are approachable because they point out observable patterns in nature.
Even quite young children could learn about the influence which Florence Nightingale had on the development of statistics. What she wrote about ventilation in hospitals and its importance in health seemed to have been forgotten by some recent architects and the principles not incorporated into the design of buildings. Her calculations now seem to have been proved right.
Her work came from observation, and the collection and collation of rates of death and disease which interest many children until they absorb the fears of adults. The necessity of collecting accurate information and sometimes the impossibility of doing so would help embed in children’s minds the importance of provable/evidence based facts.
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