Why you should ignore all news stories involving numbers

[Updated: See below]

I guess it’s only appropriate that immediately after blogging that MIT student’s thesis, I would run across this. For a long time on this weblog, I have complained about story after story in which it is so obvious the reporter has no clue how to interpret anything dealing with numbers. I got so fed up with a recent example in the Wall Street Journal, that I blogged it (and here) and was later asked to write about the confusion for the current issue of Folio: magazine (the article apparently is not online, but I’ll post it later). Now, I understand this problem a little better.

Here is a story in the Northwestern University student paper reporting the possibility Medill School of Journalism will follow other J-schools around the country that have dropped statistics course requirements or have offered a “dumbed down” version of the course in the Journalism School.


A common problem among many Medill students is that because they often don’t understand how statistics relates to their field of choice, they put off taking the course. Michelle Edgar, a fifth-year Medill and School of Music double major, left her statistics requirement until her second-to-last quarter at NU and calls her Introduction to Statisticsclass a “complete waste of time.” “I don’t see how any of the information is relevant to journalism or how it could be applied to
writing a story,” she said.

That’s fine Michelle, but if you become a reporter, please ask your editor to not assign you any stories that use scientific or academic surveys, opinion research or have anything to do with trends that are revealed through any form of measurement. (via: Romenesko)

Updated: A few months after this was posted, on April 4, 2005, I received the following e-mail from Michelle. I am happy to provide it for future “google” searchers who may land here.:

“I came across your posting on rexblog.com, referring to a comment I made to a Northwestern Daily reporter late last year. Just wanted to let you know that Andrea Chang needs to work on her reporting skills after taking my quotes out of context. I didn’t think anything much about the mistake until coming across your blog. A common problem among many Medill students is that because they often don’t understand how statistics relates to their field of choice, they put off taking the course. However, this wasn’t the case for me. What she didn’t include was that since I’m the first at Medill to complete a five-year double-major program, combiningjournalism and piano performance along with a business minor, I simply left all my distribution requirements (statistics being one of them) until my final year.

The reason I referred to the statistics class as a “complete waste of time” was rather because I felt the course itself was relatively simple and more importantly, did not relate to journalism. I would have much rather preferred a course instructing students on how to incorporate statistics into an article involving “scientific or academic surveys, opinion research or anything to do with trends that are revealed through any form of measurement,” as your blog mentions. Medill, along with many journalismschools, should at least take this into account. This class would presumably help students with actual scenarios in which students would have to apply their problem-solving skills and statistics backgrounds. I really don’t mean to presume, but I would really appreciate it if you could take my name out of your blog since both you and Andrea have taken my quotes out of context. Thank you for understanding. Looking forward to hearing from you.”

I’m glad to let her set the record straight.

Future Nobel Prize winner

spinalcat spinalcat2Future Nobel Prize winner: As I have often pointed to the CueCat as one of the most embarrassing technologies of the web era, I can’t pass up pointing to this MIT student’s thesis and working prototype of a device that uses hacked CueCats to read paper “records” containing musical sequencing or synthesis data, then pipes out the data to a computer through MIDI or serial cables. That, my friends, is worth the price of an MIT degree.

(via: Gizmodo)

rexblog bumper music: Black Math (The White Stripes)

Dvorak is channeling Dvorak

Dvorak is channeling Dvorak: Yesterday, I suggested that Frank Barnako’s rant on podcasting sounded like something that flame-baiter columnist John Dvorak would write in hopes of generating lots of inbound links. That’s before I discovered that Dvorak himself wrote his own whiney rant on why podcasting makes no sense. That, of course, guarantees that it will be huge. (Note: Dvorak’s column — as it so obvioiusly is written to attract links — is intentionally not linked.)


Pronounification: As David Carr has officially designated as a “trend” the use of pronouns in the title of new magazines, I guess it should come as no surprise that a new regional magazine announced today by a McGraw-Hill subsidiary is called, My House in the Mountain States.


The magazine’s target audience is high-end homeowners plus design and building professionals such as architects and interior designers. The magazine will debut in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana this month. Additional My House editions will follow in other regions of the country.

Local-blog aggregating

Local-blog aggregating: ResourceShelf (Gary Price) is pointing (second item) to a new (early beta) service, Metrofeed “that aggregates RSS feeds from “locally” oriented blogs (and other news sources) onto a single page.” Sort by source or by time…or you can get an RSS feed from each city for your own newsreader, as well. Gary points out that you can also accomplish the same type of service (with more mainstream news content) via the “topic pages” at Topix.net and/or placing one of more of their “topic feeds” into your aggregator. (Or, as mentioned yesterday, you can now do the same with any search results on IceRocket.)

Also, while Nashville is not on the MetroFeeds list, you can find a similar service at “NashvillesNews.com,” which has been aggregating local blog RSS feeds for several months.

MetroFeeds’ currently available:

Los Angeles
New York
San Francisco
San Diego
Washington, DC

(Thanks to: ResourceShelf)