Doesn’t add up
: Reporters and editors need more training in how to handle numbers.
Dan Okrent has a good column on the topic today. He says it is a refreshingly equal-opportunity sin; readers from left and right complain about numbers.
On my ride back from Boston yesterday, Joe Trippi took me through the numbers for the last election in a way I hadn’t heard before. It was said that the youth didn’t come out — that was the accepted wisdom starting on election night because of a flawed interpretation of the numbers and, unfortunately, it sticks. I would give you Joe’s analysis but I didn’t take notes and don’t want to get it wrong. The truth is, he said, that younger and older voters came out while voting by those in the middle ages declined. That misinterpretation spread by media will affect political strategy and as a result public policy. It’s not a small mistake.
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of chatting with Steve Shepard, the editor-in-chief of Business Week and soon to be the head of CUNY’s new journalism school, and he said — understandably, considring the magazine he edits — that reporters are notoriously bad at numbers and need education in stats.
Whether on a paper or via weblogs, it would also be great to have people who are trained in stats available to fix or at least question the flawed analyses that turn into accepted wisdom.