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Media use of statistics: good, bad, and ugly

8 August 2011

Media use of statistics: good, bad, and ugly

Nominations are called for noteworthy statistics – good, bad and ugly – quoted in the New Zealand media, for a new weekly competition on the Stats Chat blog run by the Department of Statistics at The University of Auckland.

“We want New Zealanders to be more aware of statistics and the role they play in the media,” says Professor Thomas Lumley, a regular contributor to the blog. “We see numbers in the media every day and we want people to think carefully about them – what they actually mean and whether or not they make sense.”

Anyone may nominate a statistic used by the New Zealand media, explaining why they think it is noteworthy. School students, in particular, are encouraged to take part. The person who posts the winning entry will receive a $20 iTunes voucher.

“We’re looking for bad, exemplary or fascinating examples of statistics,” says Rachel Cunliffe who coordinates the blog. “All competition entrants need to do is quote the statistic, when and where it was published, and tell us why it should be our statistic of the week.”

Full competition details, including instructions on how to enter and judging criteria can be found on the site: www.statschat.org.nz

Stats Chat was launched earlier this year to scrutinise facts and figures used in the media. “We’re aiming to offer insight and boost statistical literacy by providing a space for thoughtful analysis and comment on the statistics making headlines,” says Head of Department Professor Chris Triggs.

As well as encouraging discussion about statistics, the blog provides an archive of resources for use by anyone with an interest in statistics, from members of the public to journalists, and teachers.

Recent posts by staff members have examined how the wording of poll questions may have influenced surveys on equal pay for men and women, scrutinised beliefs about student drinking, and looked at how the risk of accidental injury can be interpreted in different ways.


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