#17 - Communicating Statistics and Risk

#17 - Communicating Statistics and Risk - Communicating...

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Flickr/bootload Translating the evidence Individual versus population risk Absolute and relative risk The dangers of comparing risk In summary PRACTICAL GUIDES Communicating statistics and risk Andrew Pleasant 15 December 2008 | EN | ES | FR | 中文 Translating statistics and risk in a readily understandable way is crucial to effective science communication, says Andrew Pleasant . There has been concern about how journalists present statistics and risk for more years than anyone reading this has been alive. Academics, journalists, and many organisations have produced numerous books, training courses and presentations on the issue. Yet journalists, and scientists, often present risk and probabilities in ways that cloud the intended message. To get your audience's attention, and more importantly their trust, you must clearly and accurately communicate scientific findings and their relevance. That often means material from a scientific article must be translated into something widely understandable. Translating the evidence The abstract of a scientific article should summarise the most important evidence, but that is not always the case. It's best to read the entire article, looking for the claims that will most interest your audience. Remember that while journalists put large claims and important facts ('news') at the very beginning of an article, scientific articles place the methodology, cautions and supporting evidence first. Supporting evidence in scientific articles can be quantitative (numerical), qualitative, or a mix of both. This article discusses quantitative evidence. Home > Practical Guides Science and Development Network News, views and information about science, technology and the developing world Page 1 of 5 Communicating statistics and risk - SciDev.Net 1/19/2011 http://www.scidev.net/en/practical-guides/communicating-statistics-and-risk.html
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In general, translate quantitative data into the closest equivalent in everyday speech and place the specific findings in parentheses. For example, people usually say half, not 50 per cent. So you should write 'about half (51.2 per cent)' or 'one-third (33 per cent)'. Unless it is an exact match, like one-third and 33 per cent, I recommend always including the specific statistic. You should also try to include the margin of error (often called the confidence interval) because it indicates the reliability of the evidence. Scientific articles often report percentages, for example "20 per cent of a sample of 215 people", or simply report 20 per cent in a table or chart. You should do the calculation for your readers and report: "43 of the 215 people sampled (20 per cent)". This accommodates multiple ways of understanding the evidence, making it easily accessible to more people. Take away message:
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#17 - Communicating Statistics and Risk - Communicating...

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