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September 10, 2019

Statistical literacy in the UK is poor – and data scientists are worried

By Rosie Lintott

Data scientists are concerned about the UK’s level of statistical literacy – the basic understanding of what statistics mean and how they relate to a given situation – and the impact it is having on how residents understand major news stories.

According to research commissioned by Digital Transformation EXPO, 73% of data science professionals believe the issue needs to be tackled urgently.

Low levels of statistical literacy makes it easier for the population to be manipulated by statistics in fake news stories or on important issues such as Brexit, immigration or defence.

The data science community wants to improve the dishonest use of data, with 70% believing it should be used for more social good and 56% stating data in the public sector should be made freely available to enable new services to be launched.

Statistical literacy in business

Meanwhile, data scientists see data literacy as vital to business. 27% see data as critically important for day-to-day operations and 26% for long-term planning.

When it comes to senior executives, data literacy is considered particularly important. 78% of people working in data science say their C-suite uses hard data to make business decisions, while 31% stated that the C-suite benefits from data analysis more than any other business area.

However the research found that 86% of participants believe their organisation would benefit more from data if there were unlimited resources and access to datasets.

87% said issues accessing data had caused delays in delivering analysis, while 29% said they did not have easy access to raw data.

32% also said there was a lack of understanding about how data is and could be used in their organisation, resulting in data being siloed in subsections of their organisation.

However, the biggest gripe for data scientists was not poor data literacy but legacy systems, with 34% seeing it as a leading issue.

Cleaning datasets and poor data insight tools came in second and third at 32% and 30% respectively, while a lack of data literacy within organisations came in fourth at 30%.

“Without a doubt data is becoming the most valuable asset many organisations have, regardless of whether they are public or private,” said Harry Chapman, group content director at Digital Transformation EXPO.

“But as data becomes more commonplace on our lives, we have a duty to ensure that data is kept securely and managed fairly, while balancing this with access to the right data to ensure businesses thrive.

“It’s only by ensuring this that we will see improvements in how organisations benefit from data, in how data and statistics are perceived, and in how data is used within the public eye.”

Read more: Operation Yellowhammer: How could data flow be affected by a no-deal Brexit?