Statistics for everyone!

Since an ability to read, interpret, and discuss statistics is essential in many fields (including, arguably, in the role of informed citizen), here’s a link to the Benchpress Project, a UK group providing some fundamentals for journalists who aim to use statistics more appropriately. Here’s Frank Swain:

When science makes the crossover from academic into public discourse, whose responsibility is it to adjust the language accordingly? 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.

The goal of delivering that understanding is what led me to this secluded corner of the UK’s Channel 4 newsroom, listening to the professor talk about relative risk and other statistical concepts to over a dozen journalists. The workshop, and many more like it, have come about through the Royal Statistical Society’s publicly-funded BenchPress project, which aims to develop science and statistical training for journalists. The project was set up in response to a white paper published by the UK Government’s department for Business, Innovation and Skills in 2010 which highlighted a dearth in the availability of such training, both within the industry and within the classrooms that supply it with new graduates. As part of the 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.

(HT: @sullydish)

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