Sunday, June 22, 2014

Framing Statistics to Scare

Over at Newton's Blog, science writer Ross Pomeroy has an excellent post highlighting how statistics are often the victim of journalists intentionally trying to scare readers. Pomeroy provides two excellent examples of this phenomena, including this one:
Eating bacon every day boosts the risk by cancer 20 percent? Sounds alarming, doesn't it? Now, let's look at the statistics behind that claim in a slightly different way.
The study in question examined a particular type of cancer: pancreatic. Pancreatic cancer is quite deadly, but thankfully, it's rare. Approximately five out of every 400 people will develop it. Now, let's apply that 20% increase...
“If all of those 400 all stuff their gob every morning with a great big greasy bacon sandwich, that five would increase by 20% which means going up to six,” Spiegelhalter explained to the BBC's The Infinite Monkey Cage. “Told in that way, it’s a complete non-story.”
The framing of a story about risk, health, and death makes a big difference as to how many people will read it – the scarier the better, generally. Accuracy often suffers in the process.
Click here to see the second excellent example and to read more.  This is definitely worth reading.