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Applied Ethical Statistics & Mathematics Course



A standard mathematics curriculum rarely encourages students to link math with history, politics or literature.  That gap communicates a not-so-subtle message that math is basically irrelevant outside of math classes, a career as a scientist or mathematician, or commercial transactions.  Such “numbers numbness” has its roots in the way math is generally segregated from current events. 


To have more than a surface understanding of important social and political issues, knowledge of mathematics is essential.  Without math, it is impossible to fully understand a government budget, the impact of a war, or the meaning of a national debt.  Similarly, it would be impossible to grasp the influence of advertising on children or the level of pollutants in the water, air, and soil around us.  In fact, contemporary society is filled with political, economic, and cultural issues deeply rooted in mathematical ideas. For UA graduates to have more than a surface understanding of these important issues, students must learn how mathematics skills and concepts can be used to evaluate and critique the institutional structures of our society.  Civic engagement should be nurtured in all educational settings, including mathematics classrooms.


With the generous support of both the Statistics and Mathematics departments, the development of an Applied Ethical Statistics and Mathematics course is underway. The class will encourage students to seriously consider the social and ethical consequences of how math and statistics are used (and not used) in society.  Students will be taught how statistics and math can be used to understand society by using calculations to follow and verify the logic of certain arguments, to restate information, and to understand how raw data is collected and transformed into numerical descriptions of the world.  The purpose underlying all calculations is to critically analyze information, to recognize possible bias in the selection of numbers and operations, and to consider the ethical implications on society of such manipulation. By developing the curriculum around a series of intriguing case studies, we hope to show how numbers come to bear on daily society as well as the important, justice-based problems of economics, public policy, and sociology.


As students develop a deeper understanding of the social and ecological problems that our society faces, we also hope that students will recognize the importance of acting on their beliefs. 


Course development will be completed by the end of the Spring 2007 semester, and will be offered for the first time in Spring 2008.  It is expected that this course will eventually be offered as an alternative to MA 110 credit, which many UA students take as their one required math course under the general undergraduate curriculum.