Guardian lead information architect Martin Belam has got his excellent Currybet blog back up and running after a short break. He has a post up today about April’s London IA event, featuring writer and statistician Michael Blastland.
Martin and I saw Michael speak at a Media Standards Trust event in March, where he spoke about the potential pitfalls in reporting crime statistics. At the London IA event he gave a talk entitled “designing for doubt”, continuing to argue that journalists, and politicans, make a very poor job of working with numbers.
He illustrated his talk with several case studies, showing how easy it was to manipulate numbers. One was the impact of an education programme on the rate of teenage pregnancies in the Orkney Islands. A selective graph seemed to show dramatic results, with the incidence of youth pregnancy slashed. A more detailed look at the numbers revealed the fundamental truth of Michael Blastland’s simple but common sense message:
“Numbers go up and down. And sometimes stay the same.”
Women are not, he pointed out, queuing up on the Orkneys to get pregnant at a nicely regular rate to please statisticians. With a low sample size there are always likely to be wide fluctuations in the numbers of pregnant teenagers from year to year.
Government information architect Martin Belam has an interesting post about some of the limitations of the recent government data release, particularly the difficulty of – and cost associated with – cross-referencing the data with Companies House records.
I’d love to be able to get an instant snapshot of how many of these companies are large, medium or small enterprises. Over time you could use that to measure whether the intention to open up Government service tendering to wider competition was on track or not.
Following on from the recent ‘do journalists need to code’ debate on this blog and elsewhere, Martin Belam argues the answer is both yes and no.
[J]ournalists don’t all need to be able to write program, but the ability to think like a programmer is an invaluable skill.
For example, being able to spot the difference between a small technical change that has a big impact on story-telling, and what appears to be a small change but which has a hugely expensive technical impact, is an essential skill for someone setting the requirements for changes to a website or a CMS.
As Journalism.co.uk reported last month the first London Information Architecture mini-conference raised immediate online interest, and ‘sold’ out fast. Here Martin Belam shares his notes from the event on his blog.