By David R. Morganstein, ASA President
Raise your hand if you recently read an article in a newspaper or online about a new scientific discovery and were surprised by how the journalist reported the data or a statistical concept.
You’re not alone! We may both want reporters to be more statistically literate.
More of them will be, thanks to a new American Statistical Association (ASA) and Sense About Science USA (SAS USA) initiative whose goal is to connect with journalists and their editors and help them become more statistically savvy.
Last year, the ASA began working with the newly formed SAS USA to re-launch STATS.org, a statistics informational and resource hub for journalists — and anyone interested in how numbers shape science and society. The project will help reporters gain access to the statistical, data-driven perspective of stories on which they are working.
Through STATS.org, journalists are connected with statisticians who are experts on specific topics to provide them understandable statistical advice and explanation. This connection is critical to helping raise the understanding of the media on the statistical issues in their stories. For the first time many reporters will have access to a statistical expert who can help them interpret a scientific study and convey that meaning to the public.
In addition, ASA member statisticians provide background information and the statistical science perspective on timely news stories and STATS.org writers, who write about quantitative concepts in a very readable, easily understandable style, produce articles. These articles are featured on the STATS.org website for reporters and others interested in statistical matters to read and learn about statistics.
The latter is in response to a recent New York Times opinion article that advocated climate scientists use a less stringent standard to assess global warming. Michael Lavine, an ASA member and professor of mathematics and statistics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, wrote an article clarifying the statistical components of the opinion article.
“Unfortunately, to make her argument, the author confuses several different aspects of confidence, evidence, belief, and decision-making. The purpose here is to point out the confusion and clarify the statistical issues. This article is not about climate change; it’s about statistics. Oreskes’ mistaken interpretation of these statistical ideas do not imply that climate change is under question; the evidence for climate change consists of mechanistic as well as statistical arguments, and has little to do with the topic under discussion here: a misinterpretation of what is called the p-value,” wrote Lavine.
You, too, can help ASA and STATS.org. The next time you read a news article that misstates or misinterprets statistical data or concepts, take a minute to forward a copy of it to the ASA or STATS.org. Also, if you see a key statistical concept that consistently is misreported in the media, let us know about it as well.
STATS.org: Because Numbers Count