How Journalists Establish Trust In Numbers And Statistics: Results From An Exploratory Study
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The Science Communication Project @ISU was founded in 2010 with the goal of enhancing collaborative research on, education for, and the practice of public science communication, broadly conceived. Our biennial symposia- which include public presentations of multidisciplinary research and interactive workshops- bring together a network of scholars who share interests in public engagement of science, environmental communication, natural resource management, and agriscience. Conference proceedings showcase research, evaluations, and critiques of science communication-related practices and phenomena.
Statistics are an essential part of science communication, yet there is little theory about how journalists decide which numbers to trust. Interviews with working journalists showed that many believe statistics are so real as to be unchallengeable. Journalists are more likely to be aware of the trust problem when they have experience with a particular statistic and know its construction. Overall, they tend to follow accepted statistical conventions observed by their beats in determining which numbers to use. This follows theories of trust in news sources and the cultural belief in the transparency of measured reality in general.