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15 Resources For Journalists To Learn About Statistics

Journalists don’t do math? In an age of open data, that’s an excuse that no longer flies.  The list below, compiled from the smart people on the NICAR listserv thanks to a request from The Associated Press’ Michelle Minkoff, contains resources to help you get started with the basics of statistics and data analysis.

1. “New Precision Journalism” by Phillip Meyer (Book)

“The New Precision Journalism” shows journalists and students of journalism how to use the new technology to analyze data and provide more precise information in easier-to-understand form. It covers the history of journalism in the scientific tradition, various elements and techniques of data analysis, the use of statistics, computers, surveys, and field experiments, database applications, how to do an election survey, and the politics of precision journalism. This is an important resource for working journalists and an indispensable text for all journalism majors.

2. ”How to Lie with Statistics” by Darrell Huff (Book)

 Darrell Huff runs the gamut of every popularly used type of statistic, probes such things as the sample study, the tabulation method, the interview technique, or the way results are derived from the figures, and points up the countless number of dodges which are used to fool rather than to inform.

3. Coursera: Passion Driven Stats (Online Course)

In this project-based course, you will have the opportunity to answer a question that you feel passionately about through independent research based on existing data. Students will have the opportunity to develop skills in generating testable hypotheses, preparing data for analysis, conducting descriptive and inferential statistical analyses, and presenting research findings.

4. IRE stats bootcamp (Workshop)

Return to your newsroom ready to craft statistics into stories that count! This workshop is aimed at strengthening the skills of reporters who are familiar with basic computer-assisted reporting and want to add statistical analysis to their toolkits. Taught by Jennifer LaFleur, director of computer-assisted reporting for ProPublica, and David Donald, data editor for The Center for Public Integrity.

5. Naked Statistics by Charles Wheelan (Book)

Once considered tedious, the field of statistics is rapidly evolving into a discipline Hal Varian, chief economist at Google, has actually called “sexy.” From batting averages and political polls to game shows and medical research, the real-world application of statistics continues to grow by leaps and bounds. How can we catch schools that cheat on standardized tests? How does Netflix know which movies you’ll like? What is causing the rising incidence of autism? As best-selling author Charles Wheelan shows us in Naked Statistics, the right data and a few well-chosen statistical tools can help us answer these questions and more.

6. Coursera – Princeton Statistics One  (Online class)

Statistics One is designed to be a comprehensive yet friendly introduction to fundamental concepts in statistics. Comprehensive means that this course provides a solid foundation for students planning to pursue more advanced courses in statistics. Friendly means exactly that. The course assumes very little background knowledge in statistics and introduces new concepts with several fun and easy to understand examples.

7. Data Analysis for Politics and Policy by Edward R. Tufte (Book)

Introduction to data analysis; Predictions and projections: some issues of research design; Two-variable linear regression; Multiple regression.

8. Statistics in Plain English (Book)

This inexpensive paperback provides a brief, simple overview of statistics to help readers gain a better understanding of how statistics work and how to interpret them correctly. Each chapter describes a different statistical technique, ranging from basic concepts like central tendency and describing distributions to more advanced concepts such as ttests, regression, repeated measures ANOVA, and factor analysis. Each chapter begins with a short description of the statistic and when it should be used. This is followed by a more in-depth explanation of how the statistic works. Finally, each chapter ends with an example of the statistic in use, and a sample of how the results of analyses using the statistic might be written up for publication. A glossary of statistical terms and symbols is also included.

9.  edX Introduction to Statistics: Probability (Online course)

The focus of Stat2.2x is on probability theory: exactly what is a random sample, and how does randomness work? If you buy 10 lottery tickets instead of 1, does your chance of winning go up by a factor of 10? What is the law of averages? How can polls make accurate predictions based on data from small fractions of the population? What should you expect to happen “just by chance”? These are some of the questions we will address in the course.

10. Knight Center Massive Open Online Course: Intro to data viz (Online course)

(First course already closed — more to come). The Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas is launching its first “massive open online course” or MOOC, a new kind of e-learning program designed for a large number of students – it is free and accessible to anyone from anywhere in the world with an Internet connection. The first Knight Center MOOC will be Introduction to Infographics and Data Visualization, taught in English by Alberto Cairo, an internationally renowned expert who teaches at the University of Miami.

11. Robert Niles (Online resource)

Numbers can’t “talk,” but they can tell you as much as your human sources can. But as with human sources, you have to ask!

So what should you ask a number? Well, mathematicians have developed an entire field — statistics — dedicated to getting answers out of numbers. Now, you don’t have to have a degree in statistics in order to conduct an effective “interview” with your data. But you do need to know a few basics.

12. Open Intro to Statistics (Free textbook)

OpenIntro Statistics is a free textbook for introductory statistics. We’ve spent thousands of hours to make this textbook ready to compete on any stage. The book can be downloaded for free as a PDF or purchased onAmazon.com for $9.94 (get 2-day shipping with a free student trial of Amazon Prime).

13. Modern Applied Statistics with S (Book)

S is a powerful environment for the statistical and graphical analysis of data. It provides the tools to implement many statistical ideas that have been made possible by the widespread availability of workstations having good graphics and computational capabilities. This book is a guide to using S environments to perform statistical analyses and provides both an introduction to the use of S and a course in modern statistical methods. Implementations of S are available commercially in S-PLUS(R) workstations and as the Open Source R for a wide range of computer systems.

14. “Numbers in the Newsroom” by Sarah Cohen (Book)

Using math and statistics in news (The IRE beat book series)

We live in a world where data are increasingly available, in ever larger quantities, and are increasingly expected to form the basis for decisions by governments, businesses, and other organizations, as well as by individuals in their daily lives. To cope effectively, every informed citizen must be statistically literate.
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