A huge amount of journalism involves data, statistics and quantified evidence. In health, migration and population, education, the economy and public spending, crime, the environment, risks and behaviour, etc, the evidence of what’s going on out there arrives in numbers. They are the language of public argument, used by politicians, pressure groups, charities, the police, companies, everyone.
How can you see through this world of numbers to the real story? How do you challenge the users and abusers of numbers and get closer to the truth, when so many people seek to spin it their own way, or maybe don’t even understand it themselves?
This course - which requires no technical knowledge whatsoever - gives you the thinking skills to explore the evidence and find new and original stories and angles, and to sift the good from the bad.
It makes an essential distinction between finding a story and testing the evidence on the one hand, and telling it on the other - and explains how journalistic pressures often cause us to do this the wrong way round. The course shows with numerous real examples from supposedly quality journalism how, too often, we seek confirmation of what we think we already know and think we want, in order to stand up a story rather than finding out what’s really going on. 'Finding out' often turns out to generate better, more informative and more original stories that not only show up the competition but are more truly informative for your audience.
So how do you 'find out' better?
Through exercises and real examples we’ll build on the instincts you already possess to see how people typically mess up with data and numbers. We’ll give you simple questions to ask that can help you challenge bad data, get claims of size into proportion, understand trends, changes and variability, league tables, averages, clusters, surveys and samples, risks, costs and benefits. We’ll show you how to interrogate the evidence, challenge your own presumptions, and see the productive power of an open and inquiring mind.
The course is fast, fun, and challenging, but there is no maths. The only thing you must bring with you is imagination.
Michael Blastland is a freelance writer and broadcaster with a string of original radio programme formats to his name from many years at the BBC, including More or Less on Radio 4. He has also presented the Human Zoo, about psychology, and continues to present the Inquiry on World Service and a new series called Whodunnit, investigating the causes of social change. Books include The Tiger that Isn’t, written with Andrew Dilnot, about Numbers in the News. He is an acclaimed teacher of new and senior BBC journalists about reporting data and statistics, speaks occasionally at the Oxford Business School and to business, government and others, and most recently worked with the Academy of Medical Sciences on a forthcoming report about communicating evidence, and joined the board of the newly-founded Winton Centre for Risk and Evidence Communication.