For our January meeting, David Robert Grimes gave us a comprehensive and entertaining talk on the misuse of statistics in the media. Starting with an explanation about how statistics can easily be distorted in the wrong hands (the maths bit), David talked about the reality behind cancer statistics and how testing for breast cancer at too early an age might actually be counter-productive. David also discussed problems with comparing relative statistics and misrepresenting small absolute changes in data as huge problems. He then considered the incursion of PR releases into journalism (“churnalism”) and false balance – the creation of artificial debates in an effort to create controversy where no scientific controversy exists. Examples of these are creationism vs evolution and climate change. David also hits on anti-vaccination and HIV denial. David finishes by suggesting what people can do to counter bias and error. It was a terrific talk, full of stories and examples.
Science and the Media – an Odd Couple.
To paraphrase George Bernard Shaw, mainstream media has difficulties differentiating between a bicycle accident and the collapse of civilisation. Yet we rely on media to inform us of events and concepts in the world around us, despite the fact that they often get it terribly wrong, especially in the fields of science and medicine. In this talk we’ll outline some of the common mistakes journalists and indeed the public make, from shocking statistics to bogus balance, as well as discuss how they can be improved, and what sceptics, scientists, doctors and you can do to help rectify the situation.
Dr David Robert Grimes is a medical physicist, musician, actor and writer with a keen interest in the public understanding of science and sceptic thought. He writes a science and medicine blog at 3menmakeatiger.blogspot.com and contributes to various publications on such issues. He is an Aries, but as astrology is a bogus pseudoscience he cannot use this as an excuse for his belligerent nature.
Date and Venue
The talk begins at 8.00pm, on Saturday, January 21st in Blackrock Castle Observatory. It is free to attend, and all are welcome. For directions to Blackrock Castle, see our Skeptics In The Castle information page.
Looking forward to seeing you there!