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News and Numbers: A Writer's Guide to Statistics, 3rd Edition

ISBN: 978-1-4051-6096-4
198 pages
October 2011, ©2011, Wiley-Blackwell
News and Numbers: A Writer


Numbers and statistical claims dominate today's news. Politics, budgets, crime analysis, medical issues, and sports reporting all demand numbers. Now in its third edition, News & Numbers focuses on how to evaluate statistical claims in science, health, medicine, and politics. It does so by helping readers answer three key questions about all scientific studies, polls, and other statistical claims: "What can I believe?" "What does it mean?" and "How can I explain it to others?"

Updated throughout, this long overdue third edition brings this classic text up-to-date with the 21st century with a complete updating of examples, case studies, and stories. The text emphasises clear thinking and common sense approaches for understanding, analyzing and explaining statistics, and terms throughout the book are explained in easy-to-understand, nontechnical language. Much new material has been added to ensure the text maintains its pertinent approach to the subject, including:

  • A section on computer modelling
  • Additional chapters on risks and 'missing numbers'
  • Updated sections on health plans and insurance, including updates on President Obama's health system overhaul & new material on health care costs and quality
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Table of Contents

A Note to Our Readers vii

A Tribute to Victor Cohn, 1919–2000 ix

Foreword xi

Acknowledgments xiii

Notes on Sources xv

Part I Learning the Basics 1

A Guide to Part I of News & Numbers 2

1 Where We Can Do Better 3

2 The Certainty of Uncertainty 8

3 Testing the Evidence 15

4 What Makes a Good Study? 37

5 Your Questions and Peer Review 54

Part II Now Down to Specifics 69

A Guide to Part II of News & Numbers 70

6 Tests and Drug Trials 71

7 Vital Statistics 83

8 Health Costs, Quality, and Insurance 97

9 Our Environment 108

10 Writing About Risks 124

11 Polls 133

12 Statistical Savvy for Many Types of News 145

Epilogue 161

Glossary 163

Bibliography 170

Index 173

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Author Information

The late Victor Cohn, called the “Dean of Science Writers” was the prize-winning science editor and writer for The Washington Post for 25 years. He was cited as one of the top science writers by The New York Times and Newsweek, co-founded the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing and served as president of the National Association of Science Writers.

Lewis Cope was science writer at the Star Tribune of Minneapolis-St. Paul for 29 years and, like Cohn, the recipient of numerous awards. Cope formerly served as president of the National Association of Science Writers.

Deborah Cohn Runkle is a Senior Program Associate at the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

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News & Numbers is a classic that should be a must-read for journalists in all fields, from business to sports. It provides practical advice for avoiding embarrassing statistical pitfalls.”
- Cristine Russell, President, Council for the Advancement of Science Writing

"The demand for press coverage of science and medicine is growing as public interest grows. This book sets the standard. It uses simple language to teach the layman or the scientist how to read and understand scientific publications. Even more important, it teaches one to critically interpret and think about research findings and ask the right questions. This is a book that you can read from cover to cover and then keep as a reference."
- Otis Brawley, Chief Medical and Scientific Officer, ACS

“Vic Cohn's reporting inspired a generation of science and health writers, and he kept us on the straight and narrow with his concise and engaging book on how to interpret scientific studies. Now updated and expanded, his classic guide to statistics should be essential reading, not just for reporters but for anybody trying to separate science from pseudoscience in the torrent of unfiltered information flowing over the internet.”
- Colin Norman, News Editor, Science magazine

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