TITLE: Statistical Assessment Service (STATS)

ACCESS: http://www.stats.org

As students develop information literacy skills, they learn the importance of critically evaluating reported statistics. Without a strong statistical background or research training, however, they may find it difficult to question the results of a study. The Statistical Assessment Service (STATS) Web site can help.

The mission of STATS, a self-described "nonprofit nonpartisan organization," is to assist journalists to "more accurately and effectively" understand and report "scientific, quantitative, and social research." Its advisory board includes several academics. Reporters can call on STATS analysts for help in understanding statistics; the STATS staff also regularly publish opinion pieces analyzing media coverage of research. Articles written by STATS staff are republished on the site.

Because STATS articles are aimed at reporters and their audiences who are not steeped in research methods and statistical analysis, the writing is clear and the explanations are easy to follow. Therefore, the site is quite useful for students writing papers on current affairs involving scientific or social science research. STATS articles cover a range of topics that are popular in undergraduate papers, including drug use, gun control, smoking, global warming, and media violence.

The site itself is easy to navigate, with links to the most current stories found in the body of the home page. Casual visitors may be willing to browse through sections containing older articles ("Newsletters," "Asides," "STATS Spotlight," etc.), but it's not obvious what each section contains. Users looking for analysis of particular issues should either browse through the subject links or use the search engine. Titles of STATS articles are also not necessarily indicative of content. For example, a search on "day care" yielded an article listed as "STATS at Work: Unconventional Wisdom, Washington Post." After selecting this article, one can see from the subtitle that it is about day care and asthma in children.

STATS is kept up-to-date; articles published since the September 11 terrorist attacks discuss racial profiling and the statistical dangers of flying vs. driving. STATS offers a monthly newsletter with e-mail alerts -- a nice feature for anyone trying to improve his or her statistical literacy.

Julie Linden
Yale University

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