Media literacy: we’ve got a piece of info, now what? (and some data/thoughts on terrorism)


Media literacy (the art of how to consume media smartly and responsibly) is something that I’ve been meaning to write about for ages: and now since I’m back to blogging after a pretty long hiatus seems to be as good of a time as ever.

So, let’s take something that caught my eye today: a tweet from Nigel Farage; because he is, in the great words of Stewart Lee, “a character”.

Riiight…. So we got a simple, straightforward, piece of information: there’s this guy who’s a law enforcement chief (so he should know his stuff) and he’s saying that about 5000 EU nationals are deemed to present a risk of engaging in terrorist acts. Now, what do we make of this? What is it supposed to mean to us? Presented, as it is, by Mr. Farage in a series of anti-EU tweets, it is presumably supposed to mean: “The EU is a scary place full of terrorists, vote for me so I can get you out”.

Yet somehow I’m reminded of an old joke: “The overwhelming majority of adult deaths happen in bed- so keep out of it!”

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Theory collage: whiskey, ladettes and Thornstein Veblen


I am starting a new blog project/category: “theory collages”; in which I am putting together socially meaningful images we encounter in daily life; with quotes from sociologists/anthropologists/social theorists; and let them speak for themselves.

So here we go, today I give you Thorstein Veblen.

veblen(via, via, via, via, via and via)

The quote is from Veblen’s “The Theory of the Leisure Class”, first published in 1899; which you can read here.

On “voodoo polls” and why we shouldn’t ever use them


So, after writing about David Cameron’s shoddy use of statistics in the Telegraph and now the margin of error in one YouGov poll that might just have changed the fate of the referendum and what happens after, I found myself thinking a lot about how official statistics and opinion polls are being used and reported in the media, and what pitfalls lie there.

Today, for instance, i want to talk about the “voodoo poll”, so called because it’s about as scientific as voodoo (and presumably because for the serious researcher seeing it reported as a serious poll in the media feels like a stab in the heart from a distance).


A “voodoo poll”, or open access poll, is one where a non-probability sample of participants self-select into participation.

In human language: sampling is the use of a subset of the population to represent the whole population. In probability sampling (random sampling), we have ways of calculating the probability of getting any particular sample, and therefore we can rigorously infer from the sample to the general population.In non-probability sampling, we do not; and therefore we need to use them with care.

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The 3% margin of error- and how it can change a political debate


As I’m writing this post right now, we’ve been knowing for sure for several hours: with 55% of “no” votes, Scotland is staying in the UK. On a quick look at my Twitter feed, I’m getting a mixed bag of relief, celebration, introspection, ‘what next’ concern and that rant from Trainspotting (nsfw).

The one comment that caught my eye, however, came from Sussex Uni fellow Ben Stanley.

We surely do remember that YouGov poll:


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Headlines in social sciences: visual methods and research PR


Gillian Rose writes in the Sociological Review about the relation between ‘visual research methods’ and contemporary visual culture: “One of the most striking developments across the social sciences in the past decade has been the growth of research methods using visual materials. It is often suggested that this growth is somehow related to the increasing importance of visual images in contemporary social and cultural practice. However, the form of the relationship between ‘visual research methods’ and ‘contemporary visual culture’ has not yet been interrogated.” Read her article here.

In the meantime, on the LSE’s Impact Blog, Alasdar Taylor warns thatmore science reporting is being done through press releases, many of which tend to exaggerate original research”. “Churnalism”- the practice of reporting press releases or wire copy ad verbatim as news stories is becoming increasingly common, and scientific journalism makes no exception. Consequently, “as the field of science journalism has contracted, the science PR industry has grown to fill the vacuum”.

The problem is that, as  Dr. Andrew Williams, a lecturer in Cardiff University’s School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies shows in a recent study, “a sizeable proportion of university press releases (30-40%) exaggerated or hyped the research findings or made them more determinist. They also added causal reasons for correlations, made extrapolations from animal research into humans and added other inferences not present in the original publication.”

The recent case of David Cameron presenting misleading/improperly read statistics in a Daily Telegraph article only highlights that this is a discussion we need to be having: while we have access to more information than ever, our attention spans are, if anything, shorter. Images and statistics are both powerful tools for shaping our perception/understanding of the world; but as we attempt to digest as many information as possible in simplified, quick-and-easy form, the picture we get may be (deliberately or not) distorted.