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Invited Commentary
March 8, 2010

Collective Statistical Illiteracy: A Cross-Cultural Comparison With Probabilistic National Samples: Comment on “Statistical Numeracy for Health”

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliation: Harding Center for Risk Literacy, Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Berlin, Germany.

Arch Intern Med. 2010;170(5):468. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2009.515

The article by Galesic and Garcia-Retamero reports that a probabilistic sample of Americans and Germans could answer only two-thirds of simple statistical numeracy questions correctly. The most difficult task was to express 1 in 1000 as a percentage (question 3), which only 24% of the Americans and 46% of the Germans mastered. Furthermore, the answers reflected wider disparities between poor and rich and between less educated and higher educated respondents in the United States than in Germany. For US citizens with less than a high school education, only 40% of the questions could be answered correctly (compared with 83% for those with a college education or higher), whereas, for Germans, these percentages were only 62% and 81%, respectively. This disparity may reflect not only the stronger emphasis on math and science education in Germany but also the different attention their media pay to science. Unlike the United States, Germany has seen a boom in science journalism during the past decade, with newspaper science sections increasing by 50% and reporting on science outside of the regular sections by even more than 100%.1

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