Numbers in the news? Make sure you don’t fall for these 3 statistical tricks

Liberty Vittert, visiting assistant professor in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics in Arts & Sciences


“Handy bit of research finds sexuality can be determined by the lengths of people’s fingers” was one recent headline based on a peer-reviewed study by well-respected researchers at the University of Essex published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, the leading scholarly publication in the area of human sexuality.

And, to my stats-savvy eye, it is a bunch of hogwash.

Just when it seems that news consumers may be wising up – remembering to ask if science is “peer-reviewed,” the sample size is big enough or who funded the work – along comes a suckerpunch of a story. In this instance, the fast one comes in the form of confidence intervals, a statistical topic that no lay person should really ever have to wade through to understand a news article.

Read the full piece in The Conversation.

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