Just some stats to start you off…
- 150 000 women die of anorexia in the USA per year
- You will accidentally swallow an average of 8 spiders a year
- men think about sex every 7 seconds
- There are 200 000 stalkers in the USA
Wait… what? did you believe my statistics? …well do you believe these ones? top five false figures
The study by Clive Seale in 2010, titled ‘How the mass media report social statistics: A case study concerning end-of-life decisions’ looked at the progress of statistics about this topic through reporting by the mass media. The study showed the way certain numbers underwent ‘number laundering’ where a simple ‘guess’ by one individual gets repeated so many times it essentially becomes ‘fact’. It also showed a phenomenon termed ‘mutant statistics’ whereby the meaning behind the statistic is left on the floor, forgotten, and trampled on.
Mutant statistics and number laundering can rage out of control like a wildfire in the Australian bush. the numbers can be “stretched, twisted and mangled and distorted”, until a virtually unrecognisable statistic appears. It’s all like an intense and speedy game of chinese whispers… a game that no one can win…
But is it a case of chinese whispers or something more sinister at work? journalists need snappy stories, memorable stories, and so using the shock factor is an obvious tool to use to stay in the fore front of peoples minds.
I don’t know about you but I feel like I’ve been lied to, like I’ve been deceived!
What do the journalists think? do they believe that they’re simply ‘putting a spin’ on news stories? or do they know that what they’re writing isn’t true? or do they genuinely believe that what they are writing is correct?
Do you think there is a way to stop this? Do you think there is a way to tell fact from fiction when reading a news story?
Seale, C. (2010) How the mass media report social statistics: A case study concerning end-of-life decisions. Social Science and Medicine, 71: 861-868.
Image 2: http://www.cartoonstock.com/directory/f/false_information.asp