Guide: Making Sense of Statistics

Statistics can be hyped and sensationalised by the use of an extreme value to make a story more dramatic or by reporting a relative increase in risk without including the absolute change. Data may be analysed and presented in different ways to support contradictory arguments or to reach different conclusions, whether deliberately or by mistake.

But while statistics can be misrepresented, they can also unpick arguments. By knowing the right questions to ask we can discriminate between the proper use of statistics and their misuse. We asked statisticians, journalists and scientists to tell us how they make sense of statistics and what pitfalls to look out for. This guide is not meant to be a lesson in statistics but a source of questions you can ask and pitfalls to avoid. Knowing something about statistics can help you test and debunk arguments and get closer to working out what the figures might be telling us.

This guide was produced by Sense About Science in collaboration with Straight Statistics and the Royal Statistical Society. Published: 29 April 2010

To read the summary and download Making Sense of Statistics, click here.

Sign in


Sign up