Measured Thinking: Principles of Quantitative Reasoning
Interdisciplinary Studies 100-02

Neil Lutsky
Olin 111, x4379

Tuesday/Thursday, 1:15-3:00, Olin 102

This course addresses one of the signal features of contemporary academic, professional, public, and personal life: a reliance on information and arguments involving numbers. Given this, we need to be able to evaluate quantitative evidence thoughtfully and critically, and to employ quantitative skills to their best advantage to contribute to society. This seminar is designed to help you strengthen these abilities and to learn more about the role of quantification in contemporary discourse.

In this course, we will work together to identify general rules or principles that may help guide our understanding and evaluation of a wide variety of claims about the world. Some of what it will take to do so will require a modest introduction to statistics and research methodology--and we will pursue that background when necessary--but most of what we need will involve sharp and attentive thinking about how quantitative information is generated, summarized, evaluated, and represented. What I hope this course will show you is that developing the habit of thinking intelligently about quantitative claims is vitally important, not that difficult, and even highly enjoyable.

A benefit of taking this seminar is that you will be learning about quantitative reasoning without the pressures associated with standard grading. You will pass this course as long as you attend and participate in the seminar regularly, and complete, with due diligence, the assigned readings and required projects. I will say more about the projects in class, but they will involve writing about quantitative information and revising that writing. To help you in this process, we will also have the services of a course writing assistant, Andrew Knoll (

Seminar Books:

Best, J. (2004). More damned lies and statistics. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Porter, T. (1995). Trust in numbers. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Tufte, E. (1997). Visual and statistical thinking. Cheshire, CT: Graphics Press.
Walsh, A., & Ollenburger, J. (2001). Essential statistics for the social and behavioral sciences. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Class Meeting Schedule: