Journalists rival teachers in how much they can educate the citizenry, although some consumers of the news view many journalists as being ill-informed, under-informing, or providing an unbalanced representation of scientific issues that have quantitative bases (e.g., evolution and global warming). Schools of journalism have mounted few systematic ventures to improve students' understandings of numbers. Some of our prior research showed that journalists and budding journalists do not adequately appreciate the potential for the catalyzing effects of even a single, critical, statistic in changing citizens' (or their own) views on a social policy, and that journalism instructors find their students' quantitative skills notably insufficient.
We attempted to ameliorate such problems and enhance reporters' numeric and analytic skills with a curricular module that highlighted evidence and scientific thinking-- and that included elements from our Numerically Driven Inferencing (NDI) paradigm's methods *. The "Numbers, News, and Evidence" module that we created engaged five sections of a first-year graduate journalism newswriting course, such that each section received the module for a week in the place of its normal coursework. The module involved approximately 4.5 hours of classroom instruction, a considerable amount of homework, and several (e.g., pre-, mid- and final-) assessments.
Although the curriculum required less than 5 hours of in-class instruction, its results are both noteworthy and encouraging. After the curriculum, the students in the experimental condition improved their performance and scored higher than a control group on two central kinds of numeracy measures: on estimation accuracy and on mathematical competence in arithmetic problem solving, simple data analyses, and compounding. It appears that the students also changed their attitudes regarding numerical information, including a more critical assessment of their own skills. Evidence also suggested that after the curriculum, students tended to write more extensively about quantities that are relevant to particular social issues, and to write more extensive critiques of another person's assertions about statistics. Finally, a post-module assessment showed that at least 80% of the students believed that the following year's student cohort should receive a numeracy module something like what they received.
Our findings indicate that even a rather short and broadly conceptual numeracy curriculum can yield results that would seem desirable to journalists, their instructors, and the readers that they serve. The data, as well as feedback received from the participants and their regular instructors, suggest that a longer curriculum would be required to reinforce many of the module's elements--particularly regarding how to better deploy estimation strategies (including how to better disconfirm, critique, and analyze initial estimation hypotheses)--and how to integrate one's improving numeracy skills into one's news writing. We hope that a multi-week module might be implemented in the future.
Dissemination efforts have focused largely on moving toward directly informing those in the journalism education community of our results, and on generating this web site to further inform journalists, journalism educators, and the general populace.
Yarnall, L., & Ranney, M. A. (2017). Fostering scientific and numerate practices in journalism to support rapid public learning, Numeracy, 10 (1), article 3. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.5038/1936-4622.214.171.124 Also available at: http://scholarcommons.usf.edu/numeracy/vol10/iss1/art3
Ranney, M. A., Rinne, L. F., Yarnall, L., Munnich, E., Miratirx, L., & Schank, P. (2008). Designing and assessing numeracy training for journalists: Toward improving quantitative reasoning among media consumers. In P A. Kirschner, F. Prins, V. Jonker, & G. Kanselaar (Eds.), International Perspectives in the Learning Sciences: Proceedings of the Eighth International Conference for the Learning Sciences, Volume 2 (pp. 2-246-2-253). International Society of the Learning Sciences, Inc.
* A typical NDI method is EPIC (in which people Estimate, Prefer, Incorporate-feedback, and Change). See our publications for more information on NDI.
Related Resources: Recommended ReadingsGeneral
- Bialik, C. (2007, September 7). How policy makers use number analyses to turn our heads. Wall Street Journal (p. B1).
- Brown, N. R. (2002). Real-world estimation: Estimation modes and seeding effects. In B. H. Ross (Ed.), The psychology of learning and motivation: Advances in research and theory (Vol. 41, pp. 321-359). New York: Academic Press.
- Cohen, S. (2001). Numbers in the newsroom. Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc.
- Cohn, V., & Cope, L., (2001). News & numbers: A guide to reporting statistical claims and controversies in health and other fields. Blackwell Publishing Professional.
- Huff, D. (1991). How to lie with statistics. Penguin Books Ltd
- Levitt, S. D. & Dubner, S. J. (2005). Freakonomics: A rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything. New York: HarperCollins.
- Merritt, D. (2005). Knightfall: Knight ridder and how the erosion of newspaper journalism is putting democracy at risk. New York: American Management Association.
- Meyer, P. (2004). The vanishing newspaper: Saving journalism in the information age. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press.
- Paulos, J. A. (1995). A mathematician reads the newspaper. New York: Anchor Books.
- Wickham, K. W. (2003). Math tools for journalists. Marion Street Press.
- FedStats. FedStats provides easy access to statistics and information produced by more than 100 US Federal Government agencies.
- US Census Bureau. Statistical data on people and households, business and industry, and geography.
- U.S. Bureau of Justice. Statistics on crime, law enforcement, and corrections.
- United Nations Statistics Division. The UN Statistics Division is committed to the advancement of the global statistical system. It compiles and disseminates global statistical information, develop standards and norms for statistical activities, and support countries' efforts to strengthen their national statistical systems.
- Library Spot. Links to a number of web sites that have statistics on population, economy, crime, labor, and more.
- Gallup Poll. Data from national and international polls on human nature and behavior.
- Visualizing Econonomics. Visualizations of eonomic data through thematic maps such as "Where do Britain's rich and poor live?" and the "United States Household Income Map".
- Gapminder. Excellent visualization visualizations of (mostly UN) world statistics.
- fivethirtyeight.come and Princeton Election Consortium. Accumulate and analyze polling and political data and present predictions of outcomes of upcoming elections.
- Toxic Air and America's Schools. USA TODAY used an EPA model to track the path of industrial pollution and mapped the locations of over 100,000 schools to determine the levels of toxic chemicals outside. Query by school, city, state or view most polluted schools by state.
Readings in Statistics
- FACSNET. Tools, sources and resources to help journalists provide the public with the highest quality information and insight.
- Quantitative Literacy. Video of experts talking about the nature of quantitative literacy and its applications, and online resources that address this topic.
- Benford's Law and Assessing Data Authenticity with Benford's Law. Simple approach to examine the authenticity of data based on the frequency of leading digits.
- Chance Project, Dartmouth project on teaching probability. Be sure to drill into the Audio/Video lectures in left margin.
- Computer-assisted reporting and data analysis at Knight Ridder newspapers.
- Electronic Statistics Textbook. Training in the understanding and application of statistics.
- Finding Data on the Internet. A journalist's guide to some of the best sources online to check facts, find statistics and track down reputable information.
- Louisville, KY Databases. Excellent example of a newspaper that has built a database of databases for the community.
- Mark Migrini's CHANCE lecture at Dartmouth. Good overview of the law and applicable data sets.
- Statistical and Demographic Resources for Journalists. A variety of online resources (quick facts, statistics, math tutorials, etc.) for journalists.
- Statistics Resources. A blog that brings together Internet resources and sources on an ongoing basis.
- Use of Excel for Statistical Analysis. Practical implications of deficiencies in Excel's statistical procedures.
- Ask the economists: Statistics - separating facts from fiction. Can we trust official statistics? Do they give us a true picture of how societies are changing?
- Tools for statistics & numbers. How poll sampling works, where to get reliable numbers online, how to interpret key statistical terms, and more.
- Mathematics for Economics: Enhancing Teaching and Learning. Resources to assist the teaching of economics, including streaming videos, teaching and learning guides, and a question bank. The exercises include those drawing on algebra, number theory, and differentiation, and learning guides address linear equations, finance growth, and other topics.
- University of Wollongong: Statistical Literacy A series of modules to help users become more knowledgeable about surveys and scientific experiments. Currently the site offers two modules: "Producing Data" and "Describing, Clarifying and Presenting Data".
- Applets at Dartmouth. Applets on this page will explain how "bin size" will effect the distributions in a histogram or what the "central limit theorem" is all about.
- Betty Jung's Statistical Procedures Site. Summary of common statistical procedures.
- Elementary Statistics Tutorial Page. Summary of common statistical procedures.
- Excel For Statistical Data Analysis. An introduction to the basics of and working with the Excel, a tool to understand statistical concepts and computation to check your hand-worked calculation in solving your homework problems.
- Free Statistical Software. A rich site with links to dozens of quantitative and statistical tools for data analysis.
- Introduction to Statistical Analyses. Biology undergraduates (like journalism undergrads) generally treat statistics like bubonic plague. This web-site will allay your fears and provide help on those statistical tests commonly used in the life-sciences.
- The R Project. A free software environment for statistical computing and graphics. It compiles and runs on a wide variety platforms.
- Statistics Every Writer Should Know. A simple guide to understanding basic statistics, for journalists and other writers who might not know math.
- StatPages. Free, conveniently-accessible, multi-platform statistical software, and links to online statistics books, tutorials, downloadable software, and related resources.
- StatPac. Software to perform a series of basic statistical procedures.
- Statistical Applications Page at Brigham Young University. Links to tutorials and other training materials for four statistical applications: SPSS, SAS, S-Plus and Stata.
- OpenLearn: Mathematics and Statistics. Instructional units in both math and science from the Open University.
- SOCR: Statistics Online Computational Resource. Aids for probability and statistics education, technology based instruction, and statistical computing.
Commercial Products for Statistical Analysis
- Minitab Statistical Software. Expensive, but a rich analytic tool.
- SAS and JMP. SAS has a variety of products for analyzing various type of data, including JMP, which is cheaper and somewhat easier for beginners to learn.
- SPSS. Along with SAS, one of the Big Two in the world of commercial statistical applications.
- Health numeracy (mp3). How patients' capacity to understand numbers affects their glucose control ability.