It's interesting to see this from the Washington Post ombudsman considering I criticized two Post writers in the past few months for their inability to question the value of statistics in even the most basic ways (like reading the warnings in the press release about the limited value of the numbers):
Many newsrooms provide remedial math training, but that's not been done at The Post. It should be considered. And given the increasing usage of numbers in reporting and graphics, The Post should pay heightened attention to math and statistical literacy when evaluating prospective hires.
But above all, Post journalists should focus on the basics. Scrutinize every number. Double-check every percentage. Question every statistic. That's as basic as one, two, three.
I don't read the Post regularly, and the ombudsman spends a lot of time talking about basic arithmetic errors, which he says are a problem at the Post. I'll take his word for it.
But the way they fumble with statistics, well, it's not just arithmetic, it's a basic misunderstanding of what numbers can tell and an assumption that a press release that blares "X percent of people do Y" is an absolute, universal truth instead. And it doesn't take an advanced degree in mathematics or even a calculator to know that when comparing polling from a House race to a Presidential race in two different years one can't say it proves changing attitudes over time. And someone said just that: