News and Numbers: A Guide to Reporting Statistical Claims and Controversies in Health and Other Fields / Edition 2

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News & Numbers is a simple and nonmathematical "how to" guide-how to understand and analyze and explain and do a better job of telling our audiences the truth... - Victor Cohn

Numbers and statistical claims are involved in nearly everything that journalists report. Science and medical issues, politics, business, crime analysis, sports-all demand numbers. This book helps the reader answer three key questions about all scientific studies, polls and other statistical claims: What can I believe? What does it mean? How can I explain it to others?

The second edition of News & Numbers builds on the tradition set by the original book, emphasizing clear thinking and commonsense approaches for understanding, analyzing and explaining statistics. Terms are explained in easy-to-understand, nontechnical language.

This updated edition contains new material in every chapter. New3 features include:

  • a full chapter on polls and polling
  • Sections on reporting disease outbreaks and evaluating managed health care plan
  • A section on focus groups
  • Information on using the Interne
  • Dozens of new examples of numbers in the news

The late Victor Cohn was a science writer for the Washington Post for 25 years, serving part of the time as the science editor. He was cited as one of the top science writers by the New York Times and Newsweek.

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Editorial Reviews

A simple, non-mathematical "how-to" guide for reporters. Cohen of the Washington Post discusses how to understand, analyze, and explain scientific and medical statistics in order to tell the truth either in print or on the air. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813814247
  • Publisher: Wiley, John & Sons, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 4/19/2001
  • Edition description: REV
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 232
  • Product dimensions: 9.00 (w) x 6.00 (h) x 0.49 (d)

Meet the Author

Lewis Cope was a science writer for the Minneapolis-St Paul Star Tribune for 29 years and, like Cohn, the recipient of numerous awards. Each co-author formerly served as president of the National Association of Science Writers.
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Table of Contents

A Note to Our Readers.

A Tribute to Victor Cohn.


Condensed From the Foreword to the 1989 Edition.


1. Where We Can Do Better.

The Challenge.

Four Areas for Improvement..

2. The Certainty of Uncertainty.

The Scientific Method.

Focusing on Medicine..

3. Testing the Evidence.

How to Search for the Truth.

How Probable Is It?.

Expect Some Unexpected Events.

Appreciate the "Power" of Big Numbers.

Eliminate Bias; Consider Alternate Explanations.

Expect Variability.

Putting a Human Face on Variability..

4. What's a Good Study?.

Experiments versus Seductive Anecdotes.

Clinical Researchers at Work.

Clinical Studies: How to Judge them.

Alternative Medicine.

"Disease Detectives' at Work.

Disease Outbreaks: What to Watch For..

5. Questions You Can Ask.

The Bottom Line..

6. Tests and Testing: Measuring What Works.

Patients Tests.

Drugs and Drug Trials.

Animals as Stand-Ins for Us..

7. Vital Statistics: Measuring Life and Health.

The Key Role of Rates in Vital Statistics.

Key Rates of Death and Disease.

Crude Rates versus Rates that Compare.

Putting Numbers on Risk.

Two Cautions.

Cancer Statistics.

Shifts, Drifts, and Blips..

8. Health Plans and Hospitals: Measuring Their Quality.

Health Plans and Managed Care.

Hospital Care Statistics..

9. Our Environment and Measuring All Risks.

Start with Some Key Questions.

Evaluate What You've Learned.

Know the Limits of Science.

Questions to Evaluate Hazards.

Questions to Evaluate Studies.

Special Statistical Situations.

Tips of Reporting Risks..

10. Polls: Measuring What We Think.

Polling with Care.

Case Histories: Ventura, Reagan, and Bush.

Other Poll-Watching Advice.

Another Case History: Asking about Sex.

Potential Perils of "Snowball Samples.".

What Focus Groups Can and Can't Do..

11. Politics, Your Pocketbook, and Plenty More.

Statistical Shenanigans.

Newsy Numbers on Numerous Fronts.

This Book's Bottom Line.

Appendix: Quick-Reference Guide.

Working the Web.

Reporting a Disease Outbreak.

Checklists for Studies and Polls.

What Makes a Good Reporter?.





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