How can I apply statistical thinking to navigate statistical information?

Let’s take a look at how statistics can be applied in personal decision-making, risk assessment, and public policy. 

1) Personal decision-making: Choosing the right diet

Imagine you come across an article that claims a certain diet can help you lose 10 pounds in a month. It might be tempting to try it out immediately, but let’s use statistical thinking to evaluate the claim. Ask yourself:

  • What is the sample size of the study? A larger sample size generally leads to more reliable results. 
  • Is there a control group? Comparing the diet to a control group helps to determine if the results are truly due to the diet or just random variation. 

By critically evaluating the statistical information, you can make more informed decisions about whether to try the diet or not.

2) Risk assessment: Evaluating the risk of a car accident 

Suppose you read a news story that says your chances of being involved in a car accident increase by 25% when driving at night. To understand this statistic, think about:

  • How was the percentage calculated? Is it based on a well-designed study with a large sample size? 
  • What are the absolute risks? A 25% increase may sound scary, but if the overall risk is low, it might not be as significant as it seems. 

Considering these factors can help you better assess the risk and decide if it’s worth altering your driving habits. 

3) Public policy: Analyzing the effectiveness of a new education program

Let’s say a politician proposes a new education program, claiming it will improve test scores by 15%. To determine if this policy is worth supporting, you can ask:

  • Is there a well-conducted study backing up the claim? Make sure the study uses a representative sample and proper methodology. 
  • Are there any confounding factors? Other factors might affect test scores, like socioeconomic status or school funding. 

Applying statistical thinking here helps you evaluate the policy’s effectiveness and make more informed decisions when voting or advocating for change.


Remember, when consuming statistical information, it’s important to think critically about the data’s source, methodology, and context. This will enable you to make better decisions in your personal life, assess risks more accurately, and engage with public policy more effectively.