Friday, December 05, 2008

Reporting statistics

Some journalists need assistance in interpreting basic statistics.

Last year, 50 percent of drownings in New Zealand were Europeans, with 23 percent Maori. This means that just over twice as many Europeans as Maori drowned, but, unlike the Herald reported, it does not mean that Europeans are twice as likely as Maori to drown.

The reason is obvious, if you haven't already worked it out: There are many times more Europeans in the country than there are Maori. Given that 80 percent of drownings are male, at least the reporter didn't say that Europeans males are 21.6 percent more likely to drown than Maori males :-)

If 15 per cent of New Zealanders are Maori and 75 percent are European, (just to make it easier) see if you can work out how many times more likely Europeans are to drown than Maori. Then work out how many times more likely Maori males - as compared to European males - are likely to drown (heh).

Just don't ask James Ihaka at the NZ Herald. But if anyone from the Herald is reading this, could they also kindly advise Mr Ihaka that in news reports, single digit numbers like four (4) are written in words, not numbers.




Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maori are about three times more likely to drown than europeans according to those figures. But the real smoking gun is the danger to the "Other" segment of the population (Asian + African?) which account for 27% of all drownings yet only 10% of the population.

Mind you, finding faulty use of statistics in journalism is a bit like shooting fish in a barrel!

December 5, 2008 at 8:33 PM  

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