Coronavirus, Statistical Chaos and the News: Preliminary Reflections

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Senior science, health and data journalists gather with leading statisticians, scientists and media scholars to discuss C19 news reporting.

About this Event

Data and statistics have never taken such a central place in daily life as they do during the Covid-19 pandemic, when everything we do at individual, organisational and societal levels depends on what the numbers tell us. As they become so crucial, however, Covid-19 numbers and figures have been subject to a rather fierce battle between different frames and narratives, in which science has to compete – not always successfully – with religion, culture and, most importantly, politics. Amidst much public confusion, anxiety and fear, numerical misinformation and disinformation seem to be everywhere on both mainstream and social media. At the same time, the pandemic has seen many excellent, cutting-edge and breath-taking data journalism and communication projects around the world.

This symposium - jointly organised by Bournemouth University, the Royal Statistical Society and the Association of British Science Writers - gathers journalists, scientists, statisticians and media scholars to reflect on how the news media have performed in handling and communicating Covid-19 data and statistics to the public. Fifteen senior science, health and data journalists working for major British news organisations will be reflecting on the many challenges of reporting the constantly changing flow of pandemic data and the diverse approaches and innovations that they have been employing to face those challenges. Leading scientists, statisticians and science communication scholars will share their research and exchange ideas with journalists. The day’s programme will cover the following key questions:

1. What are the major challenges to news reporting of the constantly changing flow of Covid-19 data and statistics?

2. To what extent does news reporting of Covid-19 data and statistics change hearts, alter minds and/or mobilise people into proper pandemic actions?

3. What methods, techniques and platforms do journalists use to obtain, unpack, portray and deliver Covid-19 data and statistics to help people make sense of the pandemic?

4. How well have journalists performed in questioning, scrutinising and communicating Covid-19 data and statistics to debunk statistical “lies and damn lies” spread by vested interests?

5. How effectively have scientists, science institutions and other sources of Covid-19 statistics collaborated with journalists in conveying them to the public – and vice versa?

The event, to take place on Zoom, is open to journalists, communicators and scholars both in the UK and overseas. Click on the link to see the detailed programme and schedule.

Keynote Speaker:

• Kevin McConway, Emeritus Professor of Applied Statistics, Open University & former Vice-President for Academic Affairs, Royal Statistical Society

Other Speakers:

• Stuart Allan, Professor & Head, School of Journalism, Media and Culture, Cardiff University

• Caelainn Barr, Editor, Data Projects, Guardian News & Media

• Paul Bradshaw, Pioneer Data Journalist and Scholar, Birmingham City University and City University of London

• Tom Chivers, RSS Award-Winning Science Writer

• Andy Extance, Chair, ABSW

• Anna Feigenbaum, Associate Professor of Communication and Digital Media, Bournemouth University

• James Fransham, Data Correspondent, The Economist

• Timandra Harkness, Science Presenter and Writer & RSS Fellow

• Ann Hemingway, Professor of Public Health and Wellbeing, Bournemouth University

• Helen Kennedy, Professor of Digital Society, Sheffield University

• Jane Kirby, Health Editor, PA Media

• Fiona Lethbridge, Senior Press Officer, Science Media Centre

• Claire Miller, Head of Data Journalism, Reach PLC

• Mun-Keat Looi, International Feature Editor, The BMJ

• Lawrence McGinty, Chair, Medical Journalists’ Association & former Science and Medical Editor, ITV

• Sarah Newey, Global Health Security Reporter, The Telegraph

• Jon Roozenbeek, Postdoctoral Research By-Fellow in Psychology, Cambridge University

• Sondre Solstad, Senior Data Journalist, The Economist

• David Spiegelhalter, Chair, Winton Centre for Risk and Evidence Communication, Cambridge University & Co-Chair, RSS Covid-19 Taskforce

• James Tozer, Data Journalist, The Economist

• Tom Whipple, Science Editor, The Times

Conference Convenor:

• An Nguyen, Associate Professor of Journalism, Bournemouth University

This online event may be recorded. All presentations and discussions will be disseminated to larger audiences through RSS, ABSW and BU’s web and social media accounts. If you do not want to appear in any recording please notify the host, keep your camera and audio off throughout the event and avoid using any chat function during the event (we will do our best to respond to any questions you have through other channels). For further information, please refer to our privacy notice.

Please note that before placing an order, you will be asked to agree to Bournemouth University’s terms and conditions (see below). Please read these terms carefully and make sure you understand them before ordering any Products.

Bournemouth University’s Online Event Terms and Conditions

For further information on this event, please contact Dr An Nguyen at

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