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Quantitative Literacy  

Last Updated: Dec 22, 2011 URL: Print Guide RSS UpdatesEmail Alerts
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Quantitative Literacy at MSU


What is Quantitative Literacy?

There is no standard dictionary definition to quote, but put simply, quantitative literacy is the ability to understand and interpret numerical information.

There are a number of terms that are often used interchangeably (although distinct meanings may be parsed out) to discuss the concept of quantitative literacy: statistical literacy, data literacy, and numeracy.

Quantitative Literacy involves a familiarity with the research methods that are used to gather and manipulate data. This allows you to make sense of the charts, graphs, tables and statistics that appear in the news, journals, books and websites that you read and to view their validity with a critical eye.

Quantitative Literacy is not restricted to the mathematical disciplines. In fact, Library Data Services focuses on serving the social sciences here at MSU. Statistics are used to describe social problems and chart historical trends over time.

There are many library resources that contain data and statistics. Library Data Services supports the development of quantitative literacy by helping researchers identify high-quality sources of numeric information and by promoting the use of critical thinking skills to interpret data and statistics. Classroom and personal instruction on the identification and use of library resources are available by request.

Quantitative Literacy Resources for Instruction

  • Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) Online Learning Center
    ICPSR offers this Online Learning Center that provides instructional tools ready to be integrated into the classroom. ICPSR offers a number of other programs and services that support quantitative skills in the social sciences including the Summer Program in Quantitative Methods. A full description of teaching resources is available on the ICPSR website.
    " is portal of teaching and learning resources for infusing quantitative literacy into the social science curriculum. A Pathway of the National Science Digital Library, TwD aims to support the social science instructor at secondary and post-secondary schools by presenting user-friendly, data-driven student exercises, pedagogical literature, and much more! Resources are available on a wide range of topics and disciplines."
  • Internet for Social Statistics Tutorial
    This online tutorial is produced by the UK's Virtual Training Suite program and is authored by data librarians at the University of Edinburgh. It covers how to locate sources of social statistics and judge their appropriateness for academic research.
  • Roper Center Public Opinion Archive - Education
    The Roper Center provides online tutorials that explain the fundamentals of public polling and basics on how to analyze public opinion polls. Sample assignments for classroom use are included. MSU is a member of the Roper Center archives.
  • Social Science Data Analysis Network
    "The Social Science Data Analysis Network (SSDAN) is a university-based organization that creates demographic media, such as user guides, web sites, and hands-on classroom computer materials that make U.S. census data accessible to policymakers, educators, the media, and informed citizens. SSDAN is directed by demographer William H. Frey and utilizes facilities at the Population Studies Center, University of Michigan."
    "The primary goal of this site is to present statistical literacy as an interdisciplinary activity...This site features books, papers and activities related to statistical literacy -- taken broadly from a variety of disciplines." The site is maintained by Milo Schield, director of the W.M. Keck Statistical Literacy Project and member of the National Numeracy Network.
  • Research Methods Knowledge Base
    "The Research Methods Knowledge Base is a comprehensive web-based textbook that addresses all of the topics in a typical introductory undergraduate or graduate course in social research methods. It covers the entire research process including: formulating research questions; sampling (probability and nonprobability); measurement (surveys, scaling, qualitative, unobtrusive); research design (experimental and quasi-experimental); data analysis; and, writing the research paper."

Quantitative Literacy Books

A selection of books in the MSU Libraries dealing with quantitative literacy topics, themes, and skills.  For additional title recommendations, the website provides an excellent list of popular and academic books.

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A mathematician reads the newspaper - John Allen Paulos
Call Number: QA93 .P385 1995
"With the same user-friendly, quirky, and perceptive approach that made Innumeracy a bestseller, John Allen Paulos travels though the pages of the daily newspaper showing how math and numbers are a key element in many of the articles we read every day. From the Senate, SATs, and sex, to crime, celebrities, and cults, he takes stories that may not seem to involve mathematics at all and demonstrates how a lack of mathematical knowledge can hinder our understanding of them." [publisher description]

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Achieving quantitative literacy : an urgent challenge for higher education - Lynn Arthur Steen
Call Number: QA11.A1 S74 2004 (Math Library)
ISBN: 9780883858165
""Achieving Quantitative Literacy: An Urgent Challenge for Higher Education" is a response to this need intended to stimulate and support QL conversations on campuses across the country. Growing out of an interdisciplinary forum held at the National Research Council, it summarizes for postsecondary educators and policy makers the major curricular issues surrounding QL. Experts cited in "Achieving Quantitative Literacy" stress the importance of embedding QL across the curriculum and of providing context for learning mathematics. The report includes findings and recommended responses concerning student preparation, public awareness, recognized benchmarks, effective assessment, and professional support." [publisher description]

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Damned lies and statistics : untangling numbers from the media, politicians, and activists - Joel Best
Call Number: HM535 .B47 2001
"In this book Best shows us exactly how and why bad statistics emerge, spread, and come to shape policy debates. He recommends specific ways to detect bad statistics, and shows how to think more critically about "stat wars," or disputes over social statistics among various experts. Understanding this book does not require sophisticated mathematical knowledge; Best discusses the most basic and most easily understood forms of statistics, such as percentages, averages, and rates.
This accessible book provides an alternative to either naively accepting the statistics we hear or cynically assuming that all numbers are meaningless. It shows how anyone can become a more intelligent, critical, and empowered consumer of the statistics that inundate both the social sciences and our media-saturated lives." [publisher description]

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Evaluating research : methodology for people who need to read research - Francis C. Dane
Call Number: Q180.55 .E9 D355 2011
"Designed for anyone who needs to learn to read and understand empirical reports in the social and behavioral sciences, this multidisciplinary book provides individuals with the knowledge necessary to understand research without overwhelming them with information about how to conduct research. His enthusiasm for methods present on every page, author Francis C. Dane wants readers to have the skills to evaluate research and critically use empirical results. Readers will gain a greater appreciation for the ways in which consuming research can add to their understanding of the way the world works and how they can enhance their efforts to improve it." [publisher description]

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Evaluating research articles from start to finish - Girden, Ellen R.
Call Number: Q180.55.E9 G57 2011
"This thoroughly updated new edition of the bestselling text trains students-potential researchers and consumers of research-to critically read a research article from start to finish. Containing 25 engaging samples of ideal and flawed research, the text helps students assess the soundness of the design and appropriateness of the statistical analyses." [publisher description]

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Reading educational research : how to avoid getting statistically snookered - Gerald W. Bracey
Call Number: LB1028.25.U6 B73 2006
"With Reading Education Research, nimble-minded number cruncher and award-winning researcher Gerald Bracey takes your hand and walks you through the process of figuring out the meaning behind the figures. You don't need to be a math whiz to follow Bracey because he writes with clarity and humor, explicitly defining statistical terminology in easy-to-understand language and even offering you thirty-two specific principles for assessing the quality of research as you read it." [publisher description]

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The visual display of quantitative information - Edward R. Tufte
Call Number: QA276.3 .T84
A classic text on the design of statistical graphics.

Subject Specialist Librarian

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Hailey Mooney

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