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Unit information: Convincing stories? Numbers as evidence in the social sciences in 2015/16

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Unit name Convincing stories? Numbers as evidence in the social sciences
Unit code UNIV10002
Credit points 20
Level of study C/4
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Professor. Richard Harris
Open unit status Open

None (although students with an A-level or equivalent in statistics may not be permitted to take the unit and should check with the unit director)



School/department School of Geographical Sciences
Faculty Faculty of Science

Description including Unit Aims

Quantitative methods are central to social and scientific research, to business and to industry, and knowledge of them is a transferable skill that is attractive in the jobs market. This innovative unit, sponsored by the British Academy, Economic and Social Research Council and the Higher Education Funding Council for England, offers an introduction to quantitative social science, looking at how numbers are used (and abused) to create "stories" in the media, public policy, and in social and scientific debate. The aim of the unit is to prepare students for the sorts of methods and techniques they will encounter in their own discipline by discussing and debating the ideas and concepts that are used to create evidence in an uncertain world, and upon which decisions are made. The unit will encourage students to engage critically with research and debate in their own subject areas, placing them in a better position to learn quantitative skills, to conduct their own research and to enhance their studies. This is not a class on statistics but a class about how and why numbers are used in society. Students who have little or no interest in quantitative methods, who are anxious about mathematics or who simply want to get a head start in their studies are especially welcome on the unit.

Intended Learning Outcomes

On completing the course, students will:

- have an appreciation of the wide-ranging use of quantitative methods in social and scientific research, and in social and policy debate; - understand the importance of structured form of enquiry to form evidence and knowledge from uncertainty and to help make sense of the real world; - be prepared to"talk back" to a statistic and ask critical questions about how it was created and what it represents; - have knowledge about ideas and concepts such as sampling, probability, measurement, proof, experimentation, causation, randomness and uncertainty; - be better prepared for the sorts of discipline specific methods courses they will encounter in their studies.

Teaching Information

Lectures and seminars (face-to-face), supplemented by on-line activities.

Assessment Information

An individual precis and commentary of a study published in a journal relevant to the student's discipline (40%) and a group project (60%). It is intended that the group project will be presented on-line and marked by other students (with marking criteria, quality assurance and a means to appeal provided by and overseen by the academic staff)

Reading and References

Best J, 2008, Stat-Spotting: A Field Guide to Identifying Dubious Data . Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Blastland M & Dinot A, 2010, The Numbers Game: The Commonsense Guide to Understanding Numbers in the News, in Politics, and in Life. New York: Gotham Books

Huff D, 1991 (originally 1954) How to Lie with Statistics. London: Penguin.

Weekly guided reading will be given.