FirstEval-Melissa Kovacs


Journalists! Please Report on Data and Research

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Journalists, you can save the world with data, too!  Lucky me, I got to speak to a class of current and future journalists at the Cronkite School last week.  These sharp, discerning minds wanted to discuss some tough topics. Here’s what we discussed:

Simply put, data and research tell truths when humans can’t or won’t.  So, journalists should care about data and research.  Researchers need journalists to broadcasts the found truths in data.
Where should journalists turn for data and research resources? Think tanks, university research centers, and even professors’ websites are great sources of the latest research and data.  Caution! Think tanks (and sources, generally speaking) can be biased. Here is a fairly comprehensive list to guide you through the sea of spin.
What does bad research look like?  Be sure to dive into research results and see how the scientist arrived at their conclusion.  Briefly, here are my top 5 considerations when judging research methodology: sample size (should be large; unfortunately “large” means different things in different fields); representativeness (do the study participants represent the population?); presence or absence of a control group (or was it only a comparison group?); randomization and experiments are hard in the social sciences; and meta-analyses (the researcher did the journalistic work for you!).
How do I know when research is biased? Who funded the research? Did Coca-Cola fund health and wellness research? Look for alternate conclusions to the same research question and pay attention to where the research was published…in a reputable journal? A biased online blog?
Data visualizations – these are the key to turning wonky, complicated scientific research into digestible nuggets for Joe Public. The Washington Post’s Wonkblog and FiveThirtyEight have led us down a path of understanding data with visual pictures (thank you!).

Dear journalists, the world needs you to broadcast our research and data results through a critical lens. This is how you’ll save the world!

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