zaterdag 1 augustus 2020

HOW TO LIE WITH DATA

From 'he said she said journalism to fact based reporting', that is the mission statement of data journalism. In the digital era, more and more data are produced, providing a basis for policies from the government to corporations and NGOs. By analyzing and visualizing data, journalism would be better in checking policies.Of course journalists need some skills that were formerly not a part of their education. Digitization has changed this, writing and typing, not enough; at least journalists need multimedia skills. And even better a journalist must be able to handle data/figures, analyze and visualize them.
Handling data used to be the exclusive territory of scientist, who know of the ins and outs of statistics and graphs. A lot of things can go wrong in reporting about he facts. Darrell Huff already wrote in the fifties about "How to lie with statistics". His arguments are still valid, but need to be updated. In newspaper and magazine articles, in reports, claims are made that cannot be based on the presented facts. These claims are distorted or even misleading. How to discover this?

Two new books are very helpful.
- Alberto Cairo, professor in visual journalism at the University of Miami, published "How charts lie. Getting smarter about visual information". As a visual designer Cairo focuses on charts, maps and graphs, and give interesting examples how a simple bar graph can be misleading: by shortening the Y axes, difference between let's say the growth rate of the economies of two countries can be enlarged. Or that a 3-D pie graph could be misleading through the perspective. His blog is very helpful to dig deeper in disclosing false visual claims: http://www.thefunctionalart.com/ 

- Carl Bergstrom and Jevin West, both professor at the University of Washington at Seattle, published Calling Bullshit: The Art of Scepticism in a Data-Driven World. Their angle is wider, ranging from visualization to statistics and credibility of journals. "Bullshit is language, statistical figures, data graphics, and other forms of presentation intended to persuade by impressing and overwhelming a reader or listener, with a blatant disregard for truth and logical coherence". The book is a product of their lectures. And the good thing is that these lectures, together with the reading list and examples ar online. Their website, https://www.callingbullshit.org/, a goldmine for unveiling distorted information and news.