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Links 1 through 10 of 192 by Martin Griffiths tagged statistics

But £1.3bn in isolation is an entirely meaningless figure. What's their turnover, their revenue? What proportion of that does this profit represent? Are they making an outrageous profit of 40%? Are they making a profit of 4%? Am I supposed to be capable of estimating - or perhaps remembering - the annual revenue of British Gas, and their parent company Centrica? (And actually, though this is further in the background, what kind of profits do companies make in general anyway? I'm sure not everybody has a sense of that).

There are about a dozen figures in that story, but no single one of them allows me to understand what that £1.3bn represents. It's just a BIG NUMBER.

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In order to present issues of risk, data, or science accurately, it is essential that media writers understand basic statistical and epidemiological principles, as well as the methods of scientific discovery. The press is most powerful when it goes beyond politics and morality to point out what science says, what it doesn't, and what it can't.

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Journalists need to check the sources of statistics and apply some basic basic arithmetic and common sense when reporting numbers, said panelists at the RSS 'Behind the numbers' seminar.

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Most journalists do not like numbers. They can get in the way of a decent political dogfight, which provides far more reliable fun than cluttering up a news report with unwieldy statistics. Why change the way a story is interpreted by examining the numbers yourself when so many interest groups and politicians can do the numbers work for you?

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The story explains statistical significance this way, “By widespread convention, scientists use a minimum threshold of 95% to assess whether a trend is likely to be down to an underlying cause, rather than emerging by chance. If a trend meets the 95% threshold, it basically means that the odds of it being down to chance are less than one in 20.” They are, of course, repeating a common misunderstanding.

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If you ever get that sneaking suspicion that too much of the authoritative-sounding facts in the news are mindlessly made up, it’s great when you find evidence of this. Everyone from the Daily Mail and the Sun, through the Croydon Advertiser and Shropshire Star, on to CNN, the Daily Telegraph and the Guardian blindly reported that “an estimated two billion people” watched the royal wedding.

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This forms the basis of Visualisation and Presentation in Statistics, the 24th rather-more-frequent-than-annual Open University statistics conference, which is of interest to both statisticians and users of statistics.

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One of the pleasures of blogging is that I can go beyond the usual journalistic approaches to such a story: (a) puffing it, (b) debunking it, (c) reporting it completely flatly. Even convex combinations of (a), (b), (c) do not allow what I'd like to do, which is to explore the claims and follow wherever my exploration takes me. (And one of the pleasures of building my own audience is that I don't need to endlessly explain background detail as was needed on a general-public site such as 538.)

OK, back to the genetic secret of a happy life. Or, in the words the authors of the study, a gene that "explains less than one percent of the variation in life satisfaction."

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Somewhere along the way, I began to notice that I developed a really low tolerance for the abuse of legitimate research and statistics in an effort to garner a great headline. When I see these headlines, I’m usually among the first to dig into the “research” and figure out the real story. What’s missing? What methods were used? Do the actual conclusions match the headlines? A favorite of mine is the chart at the top of this post (courtesy of the P.A.P. Blog). Not every headline purported to be backed by statistics makes sense even if it appears to on the surface. This one appears to show that increasing the number of lemons imported to the US from Mexico reduces highway fatalities.

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Working With Numbers and Statistics: A Handbook for Journalists will bolster math skills and improve math confidence for journalists at all skill levels. Authors Charles Livingston and Paul Voakes developed this resource book to improve journalistic writing and reporting, enabling journalists to:
*make accurate, reliable computations, which in turn enables one to make relevant comparisons, put facts into perspective, and lend important context to stories;
*recognize inaccurate presentations, whether willfully spun or just carelessly relayed;
*ask appropriate questions about numerical matters;
*translate complicated numbers for viewers and readers in ways they can readily understand;
*understand computer-assisted reporting; and
*write livelier, more precise pieces through the use of numbers.

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