October 22, 2007

Creating Optimism

"Even news that is bad, when put into perspective, can often be shown to have its good side as well" (92).

Really, I'm not much of a "silver-lining" kind of girl. If news sounds bad, well, then I take it to be bad. If some statistic in a news story shows me murder went up, then I believe the bad, case closed. However, as seen in Chapter 5 of It Ain't Necessarily So, sometimes there is good behind the bad, and vice versa. News stories often report on only one side of the issue however, whether to create a more interesting article or because the reporter genuinely doesn't know the other side (due to either a lack of understanding in the statistics or because the reporter herself was only given half the information). Does this mean that everything has a happier side to it? No, probably not. However, it does make the reader consider that just because a statistic says something bad has occured, it may have an underlying good note to it too.

Chapter 6 remarks on the unreliability of polls, which I've always thought were a bit sketchy. The chapter notes that it makes a difference how the question was asked, the wording, and through what means and to what people. Polls are anything but an exact science because, well, people aren't always completely honest in them either. Even if the question is asked well, worded perfectly, and a huge sample has been taken, people can lie about their answers. Do I support arsons? Sure!, I could lie on a poll (um, I don't, obviously). Journalists then take these numbers, without considering how the poll was conducted, and fit them into the news story (often choosing only the polls that work with their angle). However, can you blame them? An article isn't as interesting if there has to be a disclaimer on it, stating "Ok, the information from the poll you're about to read might be a little off. They contacted the people _____ way, has a margin of error of ____, and the questions were asked as _________". Yawn. Readers want numbers, cold hard "facts"- we don't want to know what went into obtaining them.

Posted by VanessaKolberg at October 22, 2007 10:15 PM | TrackBack

I think you make an excellent point when you say that "readers want numbers," Vanessa. I think this is a challenge that we all face as both writers and readers of the news. If people don't want to know the why, then how do we include it? In most cases, the answer is, we don't. Instead, as writers, we need to extra careful that we fully understand the stats we include in out stories and that our readers will be able to understand their meaning just as easily. Furthermore, as readers, we need to think critically about such statistics. While statistical information is helpful at points (I have to say this because my dad is a stats professor), when reading such information we need to ask ourselves what these numbers really mean, and, sometimes, we may find more than one possible answer.

Posted by: EllenEinsporn at October 22, 2007 11:21 PM

Agree with ya on the silver lining of those clouds Nessa. If I read that crime has gone up in Gotham (obviously Batman's been out partying a bit too much) I'm gonna believe it and not go out after dark or tell my little cousin that it's a great idea to have a clown at her birthday party. It's good though sometimes to take a step back and try to think critically about what definately went into making those statistics or how those polls were worded. After all, the Joker could have had all of his henchmen calling the pollster to give us all the wrong answers. Or maybe it was the Riddler...something tells me that I've been drinking too much of the contaminated water.

Posted by: Maddie Gillespie at October 24, 2007 11:25 PM

There is good behind the bad. Reports about AIDS or cancer are never "good news" because they deal with such horrible subjects. But there is, as you say, a "silver lining".

Numbers, we think, are solid concrete evidence. They are not always facts, and people, even editors can take them at face value. I am in Contemporary Math Analysis right now, and we just finished a chapter that included 7 different polling methods (majority, plurality. Borda count, condorcet,pairwise,etc.). At the conclusion of the chapter, we had all learned something: no polling method is perfect and they all have flaws. All can be manipulated, it is just that some are more easily manipulated than others.But most of us don't care about the process, only the results.

Posted by: Daniella Choynowski at October 25, 2007 4:25 PM
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