Wouldn’t it be nice if we could educate journalists and politicians?

Published on 2 April 2020 at 19:08

The middle of a crisis is not the right time to be negative, and that is certainly not my intention. I have a huge respect for all the people both inside and outside the health services who are working very hard under difficult circumstances and often at great personal risk to make sure that we beat this crisis and come out the other side more or less intact.

My frustration comes from looking at the daily batch of misinformation being served up by our journalists and politicians. For the last 8 years we have been teaching a Business Analytics Masters at the University of Applied Science, Utrecht and we teach the students day one, lesson one in the first 10 minutes is that you collect data from different sources, validate it, check that all the sources are defining things the same way and then combine it and process it to form information. Then you take the information and analyse it using the knowledge and experience of people who know what they are talking about to produce reliable knowledge. The intention is then to use the knowledge to help managers to decide the right actions to take in order to achieve the goals that have been set. This is not new; it is not difficult and none of our students in the past 8 years have had any problem with the concept. Sadly, whilst the course has been very successful and is often fully booked none of the students have ever been either journalists or politicians.

Germany is currently testing 50,000 people a day, currently totalling more than 2 million, for the COVID-19 virus whilst the UK which is a similar size, is testing less than 10,000 a day a total of 163,194. In Germany on April 2nd, there were 77,174 confirmed (tested) cases whilst in the UK there were 33,714 confirmed (tested) cases. Journalists now “inform” us that Germany has more than twice the number of cases as the UK. In fact, since Germany has tested more than 12 times as many people there is no way a sensible comparison can be made just based on the number of people testing positive. The number of deaths in Germany is currently 960 and the number in the UK is 2921 – three times as many, but if you look into the details it seems more than likely that the two countries are mainly counting hospital deaths and only a very small minority of the 77,000 cases in Germany ever go to hospital and very few of them die there – again just comparing the published numbers (raw data) just leads to confusion.

Please when we get through this can we at least offer a new course Analytics for Journalists (and Politicians) I will be more than ready to help teach it (If I survive)

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Ad Stam
4 years ago

I miss wisdom between knowledge and action 😉, but otherwise you're quite right Norman. Garbage dat in garbage information out

Norman Manley
4 years ago

Ad, I have left out the wisdom because I am never sure that we ever learn enough to become truly wise, perhaps some of us do but not enough to include it as a structural part of the process

Jim Irving
4 years ago

Norman, I couldn't agree more! The news in the UK is full of statistically incorrect statements and assumptions. Some rigour would go a long way to improving things. All the best, Jim