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October 27, 2005

It Ain't Necessarily So (Ch. 2 & 3)

Making News Mountains out of Research Molehills

"Too often, research that is either preliminary or inconclusive (or both) receives almost reverential treatment in the press."

Is there a "Shocking New Science" news beat?

The Chapter's made clear that face-value statistics can't be trusted.

I wonder how long the chain of statistics falsification is. In another blog entry about child sexual abuse I found that one institution had trumped up some statistics for shock value. Since they were a government-sponsored program, could a journalist take that statistic as true and then spread more false information? How deep is the rabbit hole? If one organization falsifies or misinterprets statistics, then another can use it as a source and rebroadcast that information. The chain could go on indefinitely.

Posted by DavidDenninger at October 27, 2005 11:01 AM


I think you make a good point about how bad reporting of statistics can spread misinformation.

It's the same with lots of stories meant to deliver a "shock" to audiences -- the facts become more and more skewed by exaggeration or misinterpretation.

This was one of the major traits of oral traditions in the past. Each time a story was passed on from one person to another, part of the story would become more sensationalized to make it more interesting or powerful.

Posted by: ChrisU at October 27, 2005 12:14 PM

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