La Satira News Service
A new study from the University of Punxsutawney indicates that erroneous uses of statistics by journalists in major media have declined back to 2003 levels after peaking in the middle of the last decade.
“With the rise of internet news services, the field of journalism has been rapidly evolving,” said Dr. Avery Edgware, the author of the story. “Sometimes the urgency to get a story out quickly overcomes the importance of getting the story right. This leads journalists to make hasty analyses, or else trust the potentially biased analysis of others.”
“And of course these days, with a general weakening in the population’s math skills, when a journalist does make an error, the public is less likely to catch it, even when it’s an obvious one.”
The question of the usage of statistics in journalism drew additional scrutiny after some media outlets announced in 2011 that, according to the 2010 Census, 132% of Americans qualified as minorities.
“You often hear people say that numbers don’t lie,” said Dr. Dafid Ystadegyn, professor of statistical methods at the University of Punxsutawney. “But of course they do, and fluently: you can tell very different stories through the careful selection of the same data. And even honest interpretations can be mangled by those who don’t understand the rules.”
“One of the classic blunders we see is in meteorology,” said Dr. Ystadegyn. “Every now and then some TV weather broadcaster will mention that the temperature has dropped 30% in a certain amount of time. Of course, since the zero point on the temperature scale is arbitrary–except on the Kelvin scale, which generally isn’t used for terrestrial weather forecasting–such a statement is pretty much meaningless.”
News that the average rate of statistical mistakes in journalism had dropped an average of 20% in each of the last six years failed to stir 78% of members of the public interviewed for this story. “I’m not sure it really matters,” said Matilda Webberley. “Everyone knows 92% of statistics are made up on the spot. Or was it 93%?”