Stats For General Consumption

Jan 30 2013 @ 10:36am

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Evelyn Lamb wonders how to convey the results of complex scientific studies to the public:

Statistics are used and misused all over newspapers, magazines, and the Internet. And they’re necessary. Without them, science papers can’t accurately describe the size of an effect or the probability that it was due purely to chance, and reporters can’t let people know what a new study means. How can we, as bloggers, reporters, and editors, increase the quality of statistics reporting in the media? And what should the media consumer look out for when reading these stories?

Frank Swain points to the efforts of the “BenchPress project, which aims to develop science and statistical training for journalists”:

A common attitude within the science community seems to be that journalists reporting on science stories ought to be able to substitute risk factors and odds ratios as easily as epidemiologists do. That’s a facile argument to make, but journalists are also the least equipped to do this, both in terms of time and ability. It is important, however, that journalists understand how influential this kind of reframing can be, and how it can take control of the reporting line if left unbridled. …

As part of the [BenchPress] project, I’ve developed a network of a dozen volunteer speakers who regularly visit schools and newsrooms across the country to help future potential communicators and journalists get to grips with numbers.  The passion of the volunteers—all working scientists—helps ensure that both junior and more senior journalists produce science news stories that are as robust and accurate as possible.

(Cartoon and mouseover text from XKCD)