Former Guardian science editor (a Kiwi) lists 25 rules of writing

GUARDIAN: Tim Radford lists what he calls his 25 commandments for beginner science journalists. READ MORE>

The dangerous allure of phony data

VIRGINIA McMILLAN: People are wired to accept mathematical deception, according to a New York mathematician who’s also a journalism professor.

The tendency of academics, politicians and pundits to generate numerical falsehoods from data is cleverly explored in the new book Proofiness: The Dark Arts of Mathematical Deception, by Charles Seife, The New York Times reports.

We are routinely bamboozled by phony data, bogus statistics and bad math, he says.

Seife says:
A good example is in economics. If you think elections are affected by the inflation rate and G.D.P. and the unemployment rate, you turn all of these things into a regression model, and you come up with a formula that predicts the president based on these variables. The problem is that if your initial assumptions don’t have a basis in reality, then it’s going to come up with an answer that makes it look like there’s a connection when in fact there isn’t.


Earthquake infographic breaks new ground

VIRGINIA McMILLAN: With apologies for the pun, this post is to direct you to a magnificent multi-levelled infographic packed with easy-to-grasp Christchurch earthquake data. Tweeted today by @nzherald.

WikiLeaks: The Guardian tackles big data

VIRGINIA McMILLAN: Staff from British newspaper The Guardian have analysed their own reporting/ethical and data analysis approaches to the massive bulk of data they received on Afghanistan via WikiLeaks.

What got The Guardian started? Investigations executive editor David Leigh writes:

What actually happened was that my Guardian colleague Nick Davies, in an inspired moment, tracked down nomadic WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, in Brussels, about a month ago.

In six hours of intensive talks, Davies established three things that could never have happened before the internet age.

One, that the US army had built a huge database with six years of sensitive military intelligence material in it. Two, that many thousands of US soldiers had access to this electronic archive, and some had been able to download copies.

And three, WikiLeaks now had one copy which it proposed to publish immediately online, via a series of uncensorable global servers. READ MORE HERE.

On the nerds team, hugely important in this exercise, was Simon Rogers, who reflects for  on the unpacking of 90,000 rows of data.

Young people not the web wizards of legend

DER SPIEGEL: Manfred Dworschak hits the nail on the head with some wry, research-based observations about young people and Web 2.0. This is the intro to his recent feature, The Internet Generation Prefers the Real World, in the magazine’s English edition:

They may have been dubbed the “Internet generation,” but young people are more interested in their real-world friends than Facebook. New research shows that the majority of children and teenagers are not the Web-savvy digital natives of legend. In fact, many of them don’t even know how to google properly.

Hat tip: Jim MacMillan

In praise of the humble colon (she tweeted)

VIRGINIA McMILLAN: Punctuation can go viral, a fact helping to explain the resurgence of the humble colon.

A fabulous post for lovers of language can be found here, as Connor J Dillon declaims on a new usage of the colon, now “peppering” journalism as a result of our embrace of Twitter and texting.

Dillon writes that we now have the “jump colon” coming after a dependent clause but distinct from the four traditional usages.  One of the examples he provides is:

“For those who just can’t get enough of Carrie Bradshaw, Candace Bushnell’s latest: The Carrie Diaries.”

The trad ones he cites are:

  • The lister (“The meal requires three ingredients: milk, eggs, and flour.”)
  • The talker (“He shouted at the sky: ‘I’m retired!’”)
  • The natural extension (“She saw him for what he was: a prodigy.”)
  • The juxtaposer (“His face was red: the guests were staring.”)

(Hat tip: Jim MacMillan)

Portfolio journalists strike out on their own

VIRGINIA McMILLAN: The term “portfolio journalist” seems to catch all the various jobs some multimedia freelancers/entrepreneurs are cobbling together these days to earn a living independently.

British journo Adam Westbrook writes and talks about how he works in this way here. (Warning: Book promo included.) Hat tip: Jim MacMillan – a US multimedia journalist and teacher – tweeted the link to this one.

Jim’s quirky daily catch-up of media, education, technology and current affairs can be found here.

A similarly multimedia-oriented journo and teacher in the US, Will Sullivan, runs the site Journerdism. It’s an interesting update on the collisions between journalism and technology.