Wanted: good, bad and mangled statistics

When it comes to misusing statistics, the media has been guilty of its fair share of whoppers. And the Stats Chat blog wants to hear some of your best examples for a new weekly competition. 

Run by the Department of Statistics at The University of Auckland, the blog is seeking nominations for noteworthy statistics as quoted in the New Zealand media, not unlike Sciblogs’ recent roundup of the best and worst science stories for the year.

“We’re looking for bad, exemplary or fascinating examples of statistics,” says blog coordinator Rachel Cunliffe.

Professor Thomas Lumley, a regular contributor to the blog, which was launched earlier this year to scrutinise facts and figures used in the media, wants New Zealanders to be more aware of statistics and the role they play in the media.

“We see numbers in the media every day and we want people to think carefully about them, ” he says. “What they actually mean and whether or not they make sense.”

All competition entrants need to do is quote the statistic, when and where it was published, and why it should be the statistic of the week. And as thanks for helping to promote better mathematical understanding, the person who posts the winning entry will receive a $20 iTunes voucher.

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

“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.

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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