Get the Facts Behind Misleading Headlines

Reading one scare mongering and technically inaccurate headline after another makes me somewhat embarrassed of my relatively new profession as a journalist.

When I was a working engineer, I certainly was associated with a better class of people in terms of technical expertise and basic honesty. The problem is that too many journalists are either too lazy or not technically competent enough to seek out and make sense of source data. Instead of digging a bit for facts and spending some time interpreting same with basic statistics, they instead present sensationalist headlines that generate visceral fears and inaccurately influence public opinion.

Here's how you and your company can find and use source data to make the right moves.

For social issues like child abductions and food safety scares that are often misrepresented in the popular press, there is a web site dedicated to getting past the headlines to the source data. At Statistical Assessment Service (STATS); the goal is to correct scientific misinformation in the media resulting from bad science, politics, or a simple lack of information or knowledge. The STATS web site also includes a basic statistics primer, a refresher for most technical types but apparently a black art for many mass media journalists.

Perhaps the source of your fears is not missing children or other social issues, but a failing economy and a collapsing stock market. Fortunately, there is a web site focused on the use of source data to correct media misrepresentations of world financial and economic issues. Like STATS, MarketMinder uses basic fact checking and elementary statistics to disprove oft scary headlines. A good example is MarketMinder's analysis of oil prices versus economic growth.

We have all seen the panic-inducing headlines, something like "High Oil Prices Threaten Global Economy." The facts are different. "What media types fail to note when howling over higher oil is historically, there's no meaningful correlation between oil and stock prices. None!" reports MarketMinder. "You can measure for yourself using S&P 500 index data and oil prices you can find free on most any finance website."