Reporting statistics (health, science, surveys, opinion polls)

This workshop was originally held in May 2017

Masato Kajimoto
May 12, 2017 · 2 min read

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

Tips

  • 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 (subgroups), be very careful (in general, the smaller the sample size, the bigger the sampling error).
  • Sampling methods matter. A study of 2,000 high school students randomly chosen across the country is fundamentally different from 2,000 students from two schools in a city.

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

Understanding scientific research (and the news)

Asian Network of News & Information Educators

A community to explore what’s essential in news education in Asia

Asian Network of News & Information Educators

We are all about experimental pedagogy. We know something is amiss in today’s information landscape but we don’t know what educational interventions would work effectively in our region until we try and measure.

Masato Kajimoto

Written by

An associate professor at HKU Journalism, specializing in news literacy & misinformation ecosystem in Asia. 香港大學副教授 (ジャーナリズム)。専門はアジアにおける情報の生態系及びニュースリテラシー。

Asian Network of News & Information Educators

We are all about experimental pedagogy. We know something is amiss in today’s information landscape but we don’t know what educational interventions would work effectively in our region until we try and measure.