Numbers to Live By

Judith Moran, director of the Math Center at Trinity College in Connecticut, “started life,” she said, as an art major. Now, like several of the faculty members questioned, Moran said she wants all students to be able to assess numbers in The New York Times. Trinity students also get their quantitative feet held to the fire on day one, with quantitative literacy assessment. Students who fail any part of the exam, ?logical relationships,? for example, have to take a course that will help them ?wake up and smell the quantitative roses around them,? Moran said. —David EpsteinNumbers to Live By (Inside Higher Ed)

In my “News Writing” course, I have my students read It Ain’t Necessarily So, a book about how the media report (and mis-report) scientific information that we use as a the basis of the economic, healthcare, and political decisions we make. Is the company that doubled its income in each of the past three years in better shape than the company that’s holding steady? If there are more prostate cancer patients each year, how can that be good news? (Because prostate cancer is being detected earlier and thus those with prostate cancer are being counted year after year, instead of dying off.)

One of the touchier issues a journalist faces is what to do when a source repeats a loosely-cited and often-misunderstood figures such as “one in four” (in sexual assault) and “one in ten” (in sexual orientation).