Do movie reviews affect box-office revenues? Do the U.S. News rankings affect the size of Middlebury's applicant pool? In what sense do these assessments reflect "quality"? The Wall Street Journal recently asked, "Can eating breakfast cereal determine the sex of your baby?" Nowadays, you can't read the news, choose a college, or even enjoy breakfast without encountering statistical claims. Which would you trust to inform your life decisions? We will investigate these questions through readings that include your favorite newspaper, paleobiologist Stephen J. Gould's incisive essays on excellence and variability, and statistician Edward Tufte's trenchant critique of data graphics in the popular press. 3 hrs. sem.