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Scientific literacy for politicians

November 22, 2013

Nature has a great article (and it’s free!) explaining the 20 most important concepts policymakers need to grasp about the scientific process. There’s a less wordy version at The Guardian (here).

In short, the concepts are:

  1. Differences and chance cause variation.
  2. No measurement is exact.
  3. Bias is rife.
  4. Bigger is usually better for sample size.
  5. Correlation does not imply causation.
  6. Regression to the mean can mislead.
  7. Extrapolating beyond the data is risky.
  8. Beware the base-rate fallacy.
  9. Controls are important.
  10. Randomization avoids bias.
  11. Seek replication, not pseudoreplication.
  12. Scientists are human.
  13. Significance is significant.
  14. Separate no effect from non-significance.
  15. Effect size matters.
  16. Study relevance limits generalizations.
  17. Feelings influence risk perception.
  18. Dependencies change the risks.
  19. Data can be dredged or cherry picked.
  20. Extreme measurements may mislead.

Now that list might seem a bit daunting to most politicians, but the article explains each concept well. Let’s hope it gains some traction in media circles as well as in politics – it’s sorely needed.

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