Court cases related to abortion continue to make their way to the Supreme Court every few years, and the issue remains as divisive as ever across the nation. Here are resources both for statistics on abortion and general research that might be relevant for stories related to state legislation, court cases and local stories.
Data on unintended pregnancy and contraception is available here, here and here at Journalist’s Resource. The partisan site Abort73 (opposing abortion) also provides a helpful list of stats with links, and Planned Parenthood has a quick fact sheet of their numbers.
Those reporting on food, farming, food-borne illnesses and related topics may find several links from the Department of Agriculture helpful. The USDA Census of Agriculture offers a “comprehensive summary of agricultural activity for the United States and for each state,” including “number of farms by size and type, inventory and values for crops and livestock, operator characteristics and much more.” Get even more specific with cropland data from the interactive National Agricultural Statistics Service CropScape page.
One study that provides a nice overview of using health care administrative datasets to track injuries resulting from police interaction, both justified and unjustified, is “Perils of police action: a cautionary tale from US data sets,” in BMJ, though it’s unfortunately behind a paywall. The data resources below include both “official” sources, such as federal agencies, as well as media-based, nonprofit or informal collections of information, so it will require a bit of picking through to find precisely what is needed for a particular story or project.
Reports on specific cities, such as Los Angeles (Harvard, May 2009) and Baltimore (federal/DOJ, August 2016), are available from the agencies or departments that conducted the report.
Interestingly, some of the better data comes from news sources. The Guardian’s investigation “The Counted,” as they state it, “revealed the true number of people killed by law enforcement” and related trends, actually leading to a response from the U.S. government. The Washington Post similarly maintains a database called Fatal Force, which annually compiles data on people shot and killed by police, provides their methodology and allows anyone to download the data. Fatal Encounters is a website run by a single journalist in Reno, Nev., who attempts to track all deaths caused by law enforcement.
The Cato Institute offers a daily newsfeed recap of police misconduct reported in the media across the U.S. and provides quarterly, semi-annually and annual statistical reports and various ancillary reports.
Finally, Mapping Police Violence does exactly what it sounds like and contains several graphs and charts of police violence with an option to download the source data.
Drug shortages, especially shortages of cancer drugs, have driven recent news stories. Want to write one of your own? Check this list of drug shortages maintained by the FDA. The American Society of Health Systems Pharmacists maintains a separate list of drugs in short supply here.
Sometimes researchers study drugs that are already FDA-approved to see if they may have other uses. If you want to find out more about approved drugs (what they’re approved to treat, for example, or what their major side effects are) check out these two resources:
Daily Med – from the National Library of Medicine, provides drug label information for a growing list of prescription drugs.
Drugs@FDA is the FDAs searchable database of currently approved drugs. It’s a great way to find out whether drugs are still on the market, who manufactures them, and in what forms and dosages they’re currently offered.
OpenFDA is an initiative to make it easier for web developers, researchers, and the public to access large, important public health datasets collected by the agency. The FDA phased in openFDA beginning in June 2014 with millions of reports of drug adverse events and medication errors that have been submitted to the FDA from 2004 to 2013. Previously, the data was only available through difficult to use reports or Freedom of Information Act requests. The pilot will be expanded to include the FDA’s databases on product recalls and product labeling.
Firearm deaths and injuries and mass shootings data
It can be tricky to find reliable stats related to firearms and firearm injuries and deaths, but journalists can compile a pretty good big picture by visiting several sites and pooling their data. For basic numbers, the best starting place is the CDC’s FastStats Injuries page, where you can download tables that break down firearm deaths and injuries by age and other demographics. The injuries here, however, are an underestimate since not all firearm-related injuries (especially not those where a person didn’t seek medical attention) are not reported.
The FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System provides data on the number of background checks that NICS conducts monthly in the U.S., but they can’t be used as a proxy for sales since a background check may occur without a sale or a private transaction may occur without a background check. It also includes the numbers for federal denials according to the reasons.
Then, the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports offers several tabs, including “Violent Crime,” “Murder” and “Expanded Homicide,” but it’s important to note these stats are underreported and sometimes inconsistent. For example, both Florida and Alabama report the total number of homicides in their state but without breaking it down by weapon (downloadable with Excel) or mode.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics offers information on background checks for transfers, stolen firearms, homicide trends and other data. For mass shootings, no state or federal agency tracks these consistently, but the Gun Violence Archive on Mass Shootings is a good place to start. It also provides a Creative Commons map and a description of methodology. Everytown for Gun Safety, the advocacy group that grew out of the Newtown tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, has also posted an Analysis of Mass Shootings with some great infographics.
Finally, the overall site of Gun Violence Archive pulls together probably the most comprehensive stats you’ll find. This nonprofit, nonpartisan group compiles data from a wide range of state and federal reported data, and the site transparently describes all its methodology.
Reproductive, Maternal and Child Statistics: The best resource for any data related to reproductive health or maternal/neonatal health is the CDC page on Reproductive Health Data and Statistics. Although a wide range of resources are available on the page, a couple to highlight include PRAMStata, which includes a database searchable by state or topic for more than 250 child and maternal health indicators tracked in the Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS). Everything from prenatal care statistics to smoking in pregnancy to breastfeeding stats and more is available here. The CDC explains its surveillance of pregnancy mortality here, and data on sudden unexpected infant deaths (SUIDs) and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) are available here. The March of Dimes also offers a variety of data on perinatal statistics. Other resources for data on the CDC page include links for contraception, abortion, assisted reproductive technology, sexually transmitted infections and birth data, among others.
FastStats comes from the National Center for Health Statistics at the CDC. Frequently updated and easy to use, this page is an invaluable resource for reporters who need statistics for context in a flash.
Need to know how many knee replacements were performed in the U.S. this year? How about hysterectomies? Want to know how trends in procedures have changed over time? Then you need the Center for Disease Control's National Hospital Discharge Survey. Be aware, though, the CDC is integrating that survey into a larger dataset that will include procedures from the emergency department and ambulatory care centers. The new National Hospital Care Survey doesn't have results yet, but when they're posted, they'll be here.
Any time there is an outbreak of an infectious disease, the public generally wants to know how common it is and what their risk of getting it is. Journalists will want to stay on top of new and continuing cases as well, but to provide context to those stories, or to others about infectious diseases or vaccines, they may want information on historical incidence or trends as well. Below are resources for infectious diseases exclusively within the U.S.
Domestically, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention maintain a National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System (NNDSS) that tracks all Nationally Notifiable Conditions, diseases which health departments are required to report when they have a local case with the condition. (Clicking on each disease tells you the case definition and how long it has been a notifiable condition.) This spreadsheet tells you whether a disease was reported during each of the years included. These diseases are reported for the week, month and year-to-date in each Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. To see how many cases have been reported during a particular month or up through the year-to-date, look for the Notifiable Diseases and Mortality Tables link for the month and year you need from 2015 or 2016. The CDC also provides MMWR summaries of cases for nationally notifiable conditions during each past year back to 1993. Be sure to read what data users should know about the National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System before you dig into the data, and definitions of key terms are available here. Other helpful information to understanding the system is here.
The U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, plays a significant role in aiding foreign governments with infrastructure support, education support, international food programs and a variety of health-related programs. The main site for the data retrieval provides an extensive list of databases, spreadsheets and other searchable information, including ones by program and by country, that can be searched individually, or journalists can search all the information at once with a search box (though the site can be buggy). The data dump is so large that it could take some time to familiarize yourself, so spend some time perusing their Data Resources page to gain a sense of what's available. Specific databases from the main page that could be of particular use for health journalists will be added here gradually.
Lead poisoning research
If you are reporting on the lead-contaminated water crisis in Flint, Michigan, on follow-up stories in other locations, or on any other stories related to lead exposure, it helps to have handy an overview of the facts and research related to lead exposure.
The Shorenstein’s Center’s Journalist Research offers a nice overview summary of the effects of lead exposure and how many people the problem affects throughout the U.S. and the world. Their resource page also includes a helpful list of studies and their summaries for reporters looking for data about specific effects or specific populations.
Medical devices and equipment
Want to find out if doctors or companies have reported problems with a medical device to the FDA? Check MAUDE – Manufacture And User Facility Device Experience.
Want to find out if a piece of hospital equipment has malfunctioned at more than one facility recently? You'll want to check MedSun.
U.S. and world prisons
Reporting on prisons is typically a beat for criminal justice reporters, but as more research reveals failures in prison health care systems, the mental health effects of solitary confinement and the abuses of some private, for-profit prisons, it is increasingly becoming a beat for health reporters as well. The measles outbreak in Arizona in the summer of 2016, for example, highlighted low immunization rates and inadequate rules and oversight regarding employee vaccinations.
One of the best places to start is the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, which has statistics and costs on total correctional population, prison population, jail population, probation population and parole population. All their annual surveys are archived here as well as various reports on recidivism, capital punishment, sexual assault in prison, deaths in custody and related topics.
A wealth of worldwide comparative information is available at the International Centre for Prison Studies, “an online database comprising information on prisons and the use of imprisonment around the world” that has recently merged with the Institute for Criminal Policy Research. They have a 15-page fact sheet full of big-picture states, and their world prison briefs provide contact information for prison systems in every country in the world as well as statistics on overall prison population and rate; juvenile, female, foreign and pre-trial populations and rates; system institutions and capacity; and trends over time. They also have a section on research and publications worth perusing if you’re seeking general information or aren’t sure what you need yet.
A report from the U.S. Department of Justice offers a detailed breakdown of prison and parole/probation populations in the U.S. from 2000 through 2014, including a per-state breakdown. A National Academies Press publication provides an overview of causes in the increase in incarceration and recommendations for addressing it (complete report here). For more than 100 of graphic representations of federal, state and historical prison populations, check out the Prison Policy Initiative report on tracking state prison growth. The site offers dozens of other reports as well.
Additional resources are available at the Journalist’s Resource here, here (solitary confinement) and here (father incarceration’s impact on children). Looking for ideas to localize? Check out Frontline’s “Locked Up in America” series.
Number needed to treat
One of the most easily understandable ways to talk about risk is the number needed to treat (NNT). Researchers are catching on its value and it’s cropping up more and more often in studies. A group of enterprising docs has started collecting these stats in a searchable website. It’s a good one to bookmark if you cover medical studies.
The coverage of suicide and prominent suicides in the news can have unintended consequences—such as an increase in copycat suicides—so reporters must be cognizant of the research on suicide reporting and how they can minimize that impact. Examples include as not describing suicide methods in detail and not reporting on suicides unless there is a pressing news need, such as the death of a prominent person. The Poynter Institute offers a course that goes more into depth, and the Journalist’s Resource provides a good overview about reporting on suicide and the relevant research.
Just as important as the way suicide is reported on, however, is that the statistics and facts are accurate and placed in context. The following data resources can help. First, a page at Western Michigan University explains how to understand suicide data and the importance (and pitfalls) of doing so. The World Health Organization has a robust selection of data sources and databases related to suicide across the world.
It can be challenging to gather information on supplements and nutrition products, such as vitamins and minerals sold over the counter and not regulated by the FDA in the same way that approved drugs and medical devices are. The website Examine.com is an “independent and unbiased encyclopedia on supplementation and nutrition” that provides extensive information on each vitamin, mineral or other supplement you might need to look up. In addition to a basic summary, list of alternative names and recommended dosage, the site provides a “Human Effect Matrix” that goes over every possible effect/outcome the supplement might affect, what evidence does (or doesn’t) exist for those effects, and the strength of that evidence along with links to the individual studies. Each page also contains a Scientific Research tab that makes researching studies on the supplement far easier than a PubMed keyword search, and the citations are frequently several hundred items long. Although they are a commercial company, they are not affiliated with any supplement companies, instead gaining all income from three products: Examine.com Research Digest, Supplement-Goals Reference, and the Supplement Stack Guides. The summaries are compiled by editors, physicians, scientists and other experts.
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Data
Medical studies might focus on specific populations, including Medicaid and/or lower income populations. If reporting on one of these studies for a local market, reporters might want to try to localize the data since the study population is likely to be either national data or regional data from a place outside the reporter’s coverage area. If the study focuses specifically on food stamps or individuals using food stamps, reporters can discover state-level and county-level estimates of participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The SNAP Data System on the USDA website also include “area estimates of total population, the number of persons in poverty, and selected socio-demographic characteristics of the population,” each for a specific point in time each year and including benefit levels. The data is three to five years old but can provide an overview reporters can use to localize the data found in a study relating to lower-income populations or SNAP recipients.
Vaccines and Immunization Data
The most complete record of national and states rates of immunization coverage for each vaccine are in the National Immunization Surveys. Anyone can download the data sets in various forms for each of the most recent five years for which data is available. Adverse events occurring after vaccination are reported to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), a passive surveillance system available for anyone (doctors, patients, parents, other health care providers, etc.) to report any adverse event that occurred after receiving a vaccine. However, because VAERS is a passive system – it only collects information, which anyone can submit as many times as they like – it does not accurately represent “side effects” that are linked to vaccines. (It is similar to MAUDE at the FDA.) Reports may be duplicates and may be coincidental or actual side effects from vaccines. (Some reports include car accidents, for example.) A YouTube training video explains how to search the VAERS database. Reports are available as CSV or ZIP files by year dating to 1990. An active surveillance system for vaccines is the Vaccine Safety Datalink. Research findings from the VSD are frequently published in medical studies (complete list here), and two datasets are available by public request.