Tag Archives: numbers

Use analogies to provide perspective for tricky numbers ― such as COVID-19 fatality rates

Tara Haelle

About Tara Haelle

Tara Haelle (@TaraHaelle) is AHCJ's medical studies core topic leader, guiding journalists through the jargon-filled shorthand of science and research and enabling them to translate the evidence into accurate information.

Photo: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/dayland/2434961250/">Dayland Shannon</a> via Flickr

Photo: Dayland Shannon via Flickr

It’s no secret that humans are horrible at comprehending and estimating risk, especially when it comes to abstract numbers. It’s one reason (of several) that people fear encountering sharks at the beach more than the undertows that can drown them.

Misperceptions of risk have become an even more urgent life-or-death issue during the pandemic as a substantial number of people attempt to downplay the fatality rate. Continue reading

Using numbers to explain vaccine benefits

Bara Vaida

About Bara Vaida

Bara Vaida (@barav) is AHCJ's core topic leader on infectious diseases. An independent journalist, she has written extensively about health policy and infectious diseases. Her work has appeared in outlets that include the National Journal, Agence France-Presse, Bloomberg News, McClatchy News Service, MSNBC, NPR, Politico and The Washington Post.

Photo: Sanofi Pasteur via Flickr

Do you wrestle with ways to illustrate numbers when writing about vaccines?

Dr. Gretchen LaSalle, a family physician in Spokane, Wash., recently offered some ways to do this effectively in a blog post called Vaccine Data: Do the Math.

LaSalle skillfully highlights two examples of how numbers can be used. In one example, related to flu figures, she suggests how real-life context can make the risks of the flu more obvious. In another example, related to measles data, she underscores how numbers can be used to mislead. Continue reading

Nuance – rather than just numbers – helps tell the full story

Laura Laing

About Laura Laing

Laura Laing is a freelance journalist and essayist, as well as the author of three books: "Math for Grownups," "Math for Writers," and "Your Daily Math." A student in Goucher College’s MFA program in creative nonfiction, she is currently writing a non-traditional memoir with mathematical themes.

Photo: Anssi Koskinen via Flickr

Ah, the precision of numbers! For editors and journalists alike, the right number can slam a story into high gear, giving it a clear message: this is why you should care.

Reporting the numbers gives a story its footing, and for a good reason. As the queen of the sciences, mathematics pulls the abstract down to the ground, where it can be applied to everyday life. That can include the optimal number of calories we should eat each day, the most effective dose of melatonin that guarantees a good night’s sleep or the time it takes measles to spread among a community with non-immunized children and adults. Math is the language of science, and so without numbers, science would be flimsy, inapplicable. We wouldn’t know the rules or when it’s appropriate to break or bend them. Continue reading