RSS President Sir David Spiegelhalter, RSS Vice-president for External Affairs Dr Jennifer Rogers and former RSS Council member Sheila Bird, along with former National Statistician Dame Jil Matheson, have all contributed to the BBC’s new editorial policy guidance on reporting statistics.
The guidelines follow a review by Jil Matheson last year on the impartiality of the BBC's reporting of statistics, in which the RSS commented that the lack of comprehensive statistical guidance at the corporation was 'a cause for concern’.
A follow-up report by the BBC Trust accepts recommendations made by Jil to improve statistical training for BBC journalists and to ensure that journalists are better placed to challenge statistical claims made by people in public office. It also confirms existing plans to create a 'hub' for data journalism, recruit a new head of statistics and develop guidance based on 'guidelines from, for example, the Royal Statistical Society and others'.
The Guidance on reporting statistics (PDF), which were approved by the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Board in March 2017, include explanations of confidence intervals, regression to the mean, correlation vs causation and other statistical concepts.
David Jordan, director of editorial policy and standards, said: 'We consulted with a number of key organisations and individuals in the statistical community and were immensely grateful to the RSS for the help they gave us.'
David Spiegelhalter, said: 'I was delighted that RSS fellows were involved in producing these guidelines. Statistics are often a key part of news stories so it’s essential to be able to communicate both their strengths and possible limitations. This is a welcome step in bringing about better quality, more accurate reporting and I hope these guidelines will be useful not just for the BBC but for all journalists.'
'Guidance on reporting statistics' is now available on the BBC Trust website.