Even brilliant reporters get the numbers wrong. This workshop session is about avoiding pitfalls when interpreting surveys, health research, and social science studies.

N3Con 2017 | 19 May 2017, Friday, 14:15–15:15. Details: http://sched.co/AeYh
(This workshop is over. Thanks, everyone)


  • When reporting on changes (increase/decrease), put the numbers into context and decide whether the change should be described in percentage or percentage points.
  • When the change is more than 100 percent, don’t use percentage. Say “double,” “2.5 times,” and so forth so that the audience understands it better.
  • When the size is small, a change in percentage is deceptive. Report the actual figures as well.
  • Report the sampling error as well as the sample size.
  • Be mindful of “the range” when the results are generalized to the entire population.
  • When the results are broken down to a specific demographic (sub groups), be very careful (in general, the smaller the sample size, the bigger the sampling error).

Things reporters should ask

  • Are you presenting preliminary findings or something more conclusive?
  • What’s the sample size and what was the sampling method?
  • Was there a control group?
  • What is the limitation of your findings?
  • If other researchers try to replicate the study, do you think they will see the same results? (Has this study been replicated by other independent researchers?)
  • [If appropriate]
    Who funded the study? Where did the money come from?

Recap lessons from Making Sense of the News

Opinion Polls and Surveys
Health Science

Cautionary tales

Battling bad science by Ben Goldacre
The danger of mixing up causality and correlation by Ionica Smeets
How to defend yourself against misleading statistics in the news by Sanne Blauw

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