Data and statistics have been a staple of modern society since at least the latter half of the 20th century, but have never taken such a central place in daily life as they do during the Covid-19 pandemic, when everything we do at individual, organisational and societal levels depends on what the numbers tell us.
As they become so crucial, however, Covid-19 statistics have been subject to a rather fierce battle between different frames and narratives, in which science has to compete – not always successfully – with religion, culture and, most importantly, politics. Amidst much public confusion, anxiety and fear, numerical misinformation and disinformation seem to be everywhere on both mainstream and social media. At the same time, the pandemic has seen many excellent, cutting-edge and breath-taking data journalism and communication projects around the world.
This joint symposium gathered journalists, scientists, statisticians and media scholars to reflect on how the news media have performed in handling and communicating Covid-19 data to the public as well as to discuss some preliminary lessons for the near and far future.
- Fifteen senior science, health and data journalists working for major British news organisations reflected on the many challenges of reporting pandemic numbers and figures as well as the diverse approaches and innovations that they have been employing to face those challenges. Ten leading scientists, statisticians and science communication scholars shared their research and exchange ideas with journalists and the audiences. The day covered the following questions:
- What are the major challenges to news reporting of the constantly changing flow of Covid-19 data and statistics?
- To what extent does news reporting of Covid-19 data and statistics change hearts, alter minds and/or mobilise people into proper pandemic actions?
- What methods, techniques and platforms do journalists use to obtain, unpack, portray and deliver Covid-19 data and statistics to help people make sense of the pandemic?
- How well have journalists performed in questioning, scrutinising and communicating Covid-19 data and statistics to debunk statistical “lies and damn lies” spread by vested interests?
- How effectively have scientists, science institutions and other sources of Covid-19 statistics collaborated with journalists in conveying them to the public – and vice versa?
Kevin McConway, Emeritus Professor of Applied Statistics, Open University & former Vice-President for Academic Affairs, Royal Statistical Society
- Stuart Allan, Professor & Head, School of Journalism, Media and Culture, Cardiff University
- Caelainn Barr, Editor, Data Projects, Guardian News & Media
- Paul Bradshaw, Pioneer Data Journalist & Scholar, BBC Shared Data Unit and Birmingham City University
- Tom Chivers, RSS Award-Winning Science Writer
- Andy Extance, Chair, ABSW
- Anna Feigenbaum, Associate Professor of Communication and Digital Media, Bournemouth University
- James Fransham, Data Correspondent, The Economist
- Timandra Harkness, Science Presenter and Writer & RSS Fellow
- Ann Hemingway, Professor of Public Health and Wellbeing, Bournemouth University
- Helen Kennedy, Professor of Digital Society, Sheffield University
- Jane Kirby, Health Editor, PA Media
- Fiona Lethbridge, Senior Press Officer, Science Media Centre
- Claire Miller, Head of Data Journalism, Reach PLC
- Mun-Keat Looi, International Feature Editor, The BMJ
- Lawrence McGinty, Chair, Medical Journalists’ Association & former Science and Medical Editor, ITV
- Sarah Newey, Global Health Security Reporter, The Telegraph
- Jon Roozenbeek, Postdoctoral Research By-Fellow in Psychology, Cambridge University
- Sondre Solstad, Senior Data Journalist, The Economist
- David Spiegelhalter, Chair, Winton Centre for Risk and Evidence Communication, Cambridge University & Co-chair, RSS Covid-19 Taskforce
- James Tozer, Data Journalist, The Economist
- Tom Whipple, Science Editor, The Times