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This subject teaches students to become critical users of data-based evidence. Future journalists, political scientists, sociologists, lawyers, health professionals, psychologists, environmental scientists, business people, engineers, scientists and teachers will develop skills in identifying the strengths and weaknesses of arguments and reports based on quantitative evidence, and learn to evaluate reasoning that uses probabilistic ideas.
Data-based evidence is found in the media, in academic research and in many aspects of everyday life. The subject examines ways of judging the quality of quantitative information, and the strength of conclusions drawn from it, including concerns in establishing causality. It discusses how variability may be characterised and modelled in a wide variety of settings including public opinion, health, sport, legal disputes, and the environment. It covers good and bad ways of examining evidence in data. The subject deals with judging the likelihood of events, common pitfalls in thinking about probability, measuring risk in medical contexts and quantifying uncertainty in conclusions. It describes how data-based evidence can contribute to the accumulation of knowledge.
Intended learning outcomes
On completion of this subject students should be able to
- think critically about quantitative data in a broad range of contexts;
and should understand
- the principles behind collecting data as evidence (through controlled experiments, surveys and observational studies);
- how to examine the evidence in data (including graphical representation, summary measures, and the concepts of variation and modelling);
- how to think about and describe the uncertainty in data (including probability, risk and psychological influences affecting human judgements about risk);
- how to draw conclusions from the evidence in data (including confidence intervals, p-values and meta analysis);
- how to critically assess media reports based on quantitative data.
Students with a breadth of knowledge across disciplines must be able to understand and critically evaluate the methodologies and research findings based on data. This subject aims to provide students with these critical thinking skills. It will be important for any student wishing to develop generic research and problem-solving skills. The subject will expose students to the application of data-based evidence across a range of disciplines, and contribute to their developing interdisciplinary understanding.
Last updated: 22 January 2021