In an unusual collaboration, journalists, academics and politicians in England have joined forces in an offensive against bent stats.
Straight Statistics, according to its website, aims to:
- Draw attention to the inaccurate reporting of statistics in the media, and encourage better standards by training and example.
- Ensure that Governments follow the Code of Practice on the use of official statistics and the guidance issued by Sir Gus O’Donnell in February 2009.
- Monitor the use by local government, advertisers and industry of claims based on statistical or numerical information.
- Examine the statistical basis of claims made in scientific and medical journals, in the interests of greater clarity and sounder reasoning.
Straight Statistics, which was launched just a few weeks ago, has been set up with a Grant for Research and Innovation from the Nuffield Foundation.
What’s particularly interesting is the group behind the campaign.
The board of directors include:
- Lord Lipsey (Chairman)
- Nigel Hawkes, freelance journalist (Director)
- Professor Sheila Bird, MRC Biostatistics Unit, Cambridge
- Simon Briscoe, Statistics Editor, Financial Times
- Dr Ben Goldacre, Guardian columnist and author of Bad Science
- Dr Helen Joyce, Britain Correspondent and International Education Editor, The Economist
- Martin Moore, Director, Media Standards Trust
- Professor David Spiegelhalter, Winton Professor of the Public Understanding of Risk, University of Cambridge.
Nigel Hawkes, the organisation’s director, was quoted in a British Medical Journal news story saying that the initiative “grew out of a conviction that statistics are often misused and that public confidence in them is low.”
“The worst abuses appear to be in government departments,” he told the BMJ. “The same figures are used by one group and ignored by others.”
Mr Hawkes, a freelance journalist who writes for the BMJ, Times, and Sunday Times, previously believed the worst offenders to be newspapers but has since found that there is “not a huge amount of evidence” for statistical misuse by journalists.
Who says that journalists don’t care about truth-in-publishing…