This paper is from Session 1G: Lies, damn lies, statistics: lessons from past and present for the future
Full topic list
which comes under Topic 1: Data and context in statistics education: towards an evidence-based society

(Tuesday 13th, 11:00-12:30)

Unintentional lies in the media: don’t blame journalists for what we don’t teach


  • Jessica Utts (University of California, Irvine, United States)


It’s easy to find misleading and even harmful reporting of statistical results. For example, a 2008 study titled “You Are What Your Mother Eats,” asserted that children born to mothers who eat breakfast cereal are more likely to be boys than are children born to mothers who do not eat breakfast cereal. A 2009 analysis by statistician Stan Young and colleagues showed that the result was almost surely a false positive, but by then the study had gained widespread media attention. Many students who take introductory statistics come away from the course able to compute a standard deviation, yet unable to spot an egregious example of poor statistical reporting such as the one illustrated by this example. We are doing an inadequate job of educating the next generation of medical researchers, journal referees, policy-makers, journalists, and so on. I will discuss some ways we can do a better job.