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October 27, 2005

Ch. 4 The Perils of Proxies

The FRAC took a faulty proxy that NBC sensationalized that said one out of every eight American children under 12 is going hungry. Only 33% said that they didn't have enough money to buy food, so the children went to bed hungry, which is the most vital question, whereas 98% said they relied on a limited number of foods to feed their children. When you think of starving children you may think of Sally Struthers or Kathy Lee on T.V. whaling, but notice these children aren't usually American. The authors suggest that it makes a difference to know whether or not there was "a traffic jam on the way back from the supermarket" or maybe the children are getting fed a "monotonous" diet. Either way, like we discussed in the last chapter, it is important to ask these kinds of questions before you start getting upset by numbers.
Ted J. Smith III and Melanie Scarborough, who worked for an unpublished paper, discovered that 87% "simply relayed the findings of the FRAC study to the public without negative criticism of any kind." (75) The Physician Task force which was lead by psychologists instead of actual doctors used even worse methods of research that concluded 20 million people were not getting enough food stamps to buy food, yet there were many counties that fell under this category that had farms that were "valued well above half a million dollars. If farmers like these, who may technically be eligible for food stamps, fail to participate in the program, you somehow doubt they're suffering from malnutrition." (76)This shows that proxies are inaccurate, but researchers like to use them because it makes the issue seem more "pressing."
This reminds me of lacking proportionality. If a reporter only gets quotes or numbers that favor their personal cause it also shows imbalance. It goes back to the beginning when we learned that if you have a pet issue, stay away from it if you can't handle it. Proxies do the job of their name by only getting an approximate and broad definition of hunger. The authors criticize nutritionist Jean Mayer who uses hunger as a "synonym for inequality." They then point out measuring iron intake in poor kids will not support that.
Another flaw in measuring hunger and poverty, is measuring income. Definitions of poverty are purely subjective. News should be objective, but it's hard to do that when you personally have to define something. I agree with the author's statements on the error in using low-income as a definition of "poor." (79) Examples are retirees who have a low income but own a home and have assets. Also, ex-students who are just getting into the workforce and live with our parents are placed under that category too. I think this makes it unfair because if people who have other means of income receive government assistance, I think it takes away from people who really need it. Low income means some income, not "no income!" Measuring more directly than proxies would still be troublesome because then we'd have to ask specific questions, like how many rooms and what sizes do they have to be for the occupants to be poor? As reporters, we can learn to ask better questions, because as the authors said, we would have been able to use all the funds donated to aid in poverty better if there hadn't been insufficient proxies.
Finally, even scientists are affected by proxies, due to the flaws in the study of electromagnetic fields, the public lost between "$1 billion and $3 billion per year." (83)Imagine, we could've been feeding all those kids whose parents don't use their food stamps with that money! Researchers aren't completely to blame. Sometimes, they just don't know the right things to measure or sometimes, they can't measure it directly. There's no denying that hunger is an issue, but as reporters, we shouldn't focus on the object of the studies, but the methods we use. As the authors say, don't ask "how many", but ask "how." In news worthy story, statistics may make us seem smart, but if we can't understand how bank robberies, etc. happened, it is hard to make a news story interesting. I take the two-year-old approach and ask "why" over and over, because whatever the numbers say "ain't necessarily so."

Ch. 5
I think itís important to look at the direction of where statistics are pointing and this reminded me of Ch. 4 in some ways, because as a reporter, itís important to ask the right questions, and have proportionality which deals with looking at something from ďboth sides.Ē

Posted by ErinWaite at October 27, 2005 08:10 PM


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