March 15, 2016

Joseph Pulitzer on statistics in journalism

From the North American Review, May 1904, writing about the proposed School of Journalism at Columbia University.

Everybody says that statistics should be taught. But how ?

Statistics are not simply figures. It is said that nothing lies  like figures except facts. You want statistics to tell you the truth. You can find truth there if you know how to get at it, and  romance, human interest, humor and fascinating revelations as well. The journalist must know how to find all these things truth, of course, first. His figures must bear examination. It is much better to understate than to overstate his case, so that his critics and not himself may be put to confusion when they challenge him to verify his comparisons.

He must not read his statistics blindly; he must be able to test them by knowledge and by common sense. He must always be
on the alert to discover how far they can actually be trusted and what they really mean. The analysis of statistics to get at the essential truth of them has become a well-developed science whose principles are systematically taught. And what a fascinating science it is!

via Amelia McNamara and Mark Hansen.


Thomas Lumley (@tslumley) is Professor of Biostatistics at the University of Auckland. His research interests include semiparametric models, survey sampling, statistical computing, foundations of statistics, and whatever methodological problems his medical collaborators come up with. He also blogs at Biased and Inefficient See all posts by Thomas Lumley »