You are here

Making Sense of Data in the Media

Making Sense of Data in the Media

November 2019 | 272 pages | SAGE Publications Ltd
The amount of data produced, captured and transmitted through the media has never been greater. But for this data to be useful, it needs to be properly understood and claims made about or with data need to be properly scrutinized.

Through a series of examples of statistics in the media, this book shows you how to critically assess the presentation of data in the media, to identify what is significant and to sort verifiable conclusions from misleading claims. How accurate are polls, and how should we know? How should league tables be read? Are numbers presented as ‘large’ really as big as they may seem at first glance?

By answering these questions and more, readers will learn a number of statistical concepts central to many undergraduate social science statistics courses. But more than this, by tying them in to real life examples, the importance and relevance of these concepts comes to life. As such, this book does more than teaches techniques needed for a statistics course; it teaches you life skills that we need to use every single day.

Chapter 1 Introduction
Chapter 2 How to make numbers sound big, or small, even when they aren’t: “Is that a lot?”
Chapter 3 Recognizing which numbers you should trust: “Where is the data from?”
Chapter 4 Making surveys representative: “Who you gonna call?”
Chapter 5 Graphics in the media and how to read them: “What does this mean?
Chapter 6 Maps in the media: “Where is this happening?"
Chapter 7 Mapping patterns and people: why does geography matter?
Chapter 8 Understanding uncertainty in estimation: “are you sure?”
Chapter 9 Ranking with league tables: “What's the best?"
Chapter 10 When a relationship (doesn’t) mean causality: “How did that happen?"
Chapter 11 Surprising quirks in the media: “Is that possible?"
Chapter 12 Conclusion

What a timely book. In a world drowning in data we all need to know how to critically evaluate the numbers we confront every day. This book will help you ask those all-important questions and demystify statistics. From ‘is that a lot?’ to ‘is that possible?’ the authors guide you through statistical techniques that are easy to understand and simple to apply. Read it, learn the techniques and use them to become a critical data consumer.

Jackie Carter
University of Manchester

There are two ways to learn about statistics. You could endure pages of maths, formulae and words that are, literally, 'so last century' (or more). Or you could learn from informative case studies exploring how, when and why data are used well or badly in today's society. I prefer the second option; happily, the authors do too.

Richard Harris
University of Bristol

This excellent new book goes beyond the familiar fundamental concepts of statistics to cover the vital, but often neglected issues of place and time. It is essential reading for students who want to understand the use and misuse of numbers.

Robert de Vries
University of Kent

a much needed text for contemporary research

Mr Ian Andrew
Business School, Oxford Brookes University
December 10, 2019

Preview this book

Andrew Bell

Andrew Bell is a Lecturer at the Sheffield Methods Institute, University of Sheffield. His research spans a wide range of social sciences and beyond, with work on social inequalities, segregation, mental health, education and more. He also investigates the performance of different quantitative methods for use in the social sciences, with a focus on multilevel models. His twitter is @andrewjdbell. More About Author

Todd Hartman

Todd Hartman is Senior Lecturer in Quantitative Social Sciences at the Sheffield Methods Institute. His research focuses on political psychology, especially political attitudes and inter-group relations. He has extensive experience conducting surveys and experiments. His twitter is @tkhartman More About Author

Aneta Piekut

Aneta Piekut is a Lecturer at the Sheffield Methods Institute, the University of Sheffield. Her research focuses on the relationship between ethnic diversity and social cohesion, attitudes towards immigration and ethnic minorities, as well as integration and socio-spatial segregation. She teaches undergraduate students how to design a survey, do a mixed-methods research and how to replicate a scientific paper. Her twitter is @anetapiekut  More About Author

Alasdair Rae

Alasdair Rae is a Professorial Fellow in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at the University of Sheffield. His research focuses on cities, regions, housing markets, neighbourhoods, inequality, transport and spatial analysis. He uses data a lot, and he likes to make maps. You can find out more about his work on his website and frequently updated Stats, Maps n Pix blog ( Follow him on Twitter at @undertheraedar.  More About Author

Mark Taylor

Mark Taylor is Senior Lecturer in Quantitative Methods (Sociology) at the Sheffield Methods Institute, University of Sheffield, and is AHRC Leadership Fellow (Creative Economy) until 2021. His research interests are in the sociology of culture: in consumption, production, and education, and its relationship to inequality. He spends a lot of time visualising data, and wrangling data into a shape where it can be visualised. His twitter is @markrt More About Author