Academic journal article Peer Review

From the Editor

Academic journal article Peer Review

From the Editor

Article excerpt

As this issue of Peer Review goes, to press, America is entering the final throes of the 2004 presidential campaign. Accordingly, we are beset by public opinion polls and by data-driven arguments about the relative merits of varions policy alternatives. Our choices as voters may depend, in part, on our ability to sort through competing claims rooted in quantitative measures. Yet while its direct relevance to democracy may be more readily discernible in an election year, quantitative literacy-or "numeracy," as it is sometimes called-has become increasingly important to citizenship more generally. Indeed, effective participation in civic life depends more than ever upon one's ability to understand quantitative information and to make informed decisions based upon it.

Citizens are regularly confronted with a dizzying array of numerical information. On a given day, for example, the media may report changes in the consumer price index or federal interest rates, results of clinical trials, statistics from an educational assessment of local schools, Undings from a study of the long-term health effects of a widely used product; the list could go on almost endlessly. Moreover, near-omnipresent computers generate-and the Internet makes available-a staggering amount of information, much of it quantitative.

For a quantitatively literate citizen, access to this wealth of information is potentially empowering. The reverse also is true, however. A quantitatively illiterate citizen-one who is unable to evaluate statistical arguments competently, for example, or incapable of grasping the potential implications of data trends-may be easily mystified. As Lynn Steen has put it, "an innumerate citizen today is as vulnerable as the illiterate peasant of Gutenberg's time. …

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