This paper is from Session 7A: Statistics and the media
Full topic list
which comes under Topic 7: Statistics education and the wider society

(Monday 12th, 11:00-12:30)

Spinning heads and spinning news: the American media’s gap in quantitative reasoning skills



News increasingly depends on a careful dissection of numbers. Statistics are everywhere, from how many people are not covered by health insurance to whether Vitamin E is good for you or not. Yet for being so prevalent, statistics are badly understood by journalists and the general public. Misguided representations of science can actually shape public policy, legislation, and individual choices. We describe why it is so important that media writers understand basic concepts from statistics, epidemiology and even toxicology using examples in current media coverage. We also discuss the gulf between the scientific and media cultures, which can lead to bad science coverage. We finish with constructive suggestions for improvements in communication of scientific progress by media writers.