Friday, March 25, 2016

Resources available to help journalists better understand stories involving math and statistics

Journalists don't need to fear math when writing stories, John Wihbey reports for Journalist's Resource. "Whether it’s reading a government-produced spreadsheet, calculating percentage changes or judging the results of complex academic studies, journalists often must confront the world of math, like it or not." Journalist's Resource offers some helpful resources to help reporters sharpen their skills.

When it comes to math and statistics, resources include: “Mathematics Competency Test for Journalists,” “What Headlines Would Look Like If We Lived in a Mathematically Literate World," “Math Basics for Journalists: Working with Averages and Percentages,” the Centre for Investigative Journalism's “Statistics for Journalists" and “Statistics Every Writer Should Know.”

"Key areas in business and politics often present challenges for general assignment reporters in terms of knowing what’s relevant and detecting underlying data problems," Wihbey writes. Good examples to look at are: “Reading Economic Data Releases from the Government,” “Polling Fundamentals and Concepts: An Overview for Journalists,” “Statistical Terms Used in Research studies: A Primer for Media,” “Interpreting Academic Studies: A Primer for Media” and “Regression Analysis: A Quick Primer for Media on a Fundamental Form of Data Crunching.”

"For a hands-on primer on using Excel to analyze real-world data, try 'Data Journalism Lesson with Crime Stats: Parsing Close-call Numbers and Producing Valid Stories,' Whibey writes. "Using a dataset of 2013 crime stats from 269 U.S. cities, we walk you through the steps needed to find out what the data 'say' and point out traps that you should avoid."

"Some problems go well beyond simple numerical errors and ultimately come down to flaws in logic, inference and causality," Whibey writes. "For a rigorous overview of how to build an explanatory theory, see 'Guide to Critical Thinking, Research, Data and Theory: Overview for Journalists.' 'Introduction to Statistics: Inference' explores 'statistical ideas and methods commonly used to make valid conclusions based on data from random samples.' There are also a number of free online statistics tutorials available, including one from Stat Trek and another from Experiment Resources. Stat Trek also offer a glossary that provides definitions of common statistical terms. Another useful resource is “Harnessing the Power of Statistics,” a chapter in The New Precision Journalism."

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