Statistical Assessment Service
|Headquarters||Washington, D.C, United States|
|S. Robert Lichter|
|George Mason University|
|Affiliations||Center for Media and Public Affairs|
Statistical Assessment Service (STATS) is a non-profit educational organization, based in Washington, DC, which analyzes and critiques the presentation of scientific findings and statistical evidence in the news media.
STATS was founded in 1994 by S. Robert Lichter, a professor of communications at George Mason University. According to the organization's website, to which it posts the majority of its research, its goal is to help correct "scientific misinformation in the media resulting from bad science, politics, or a simple lack of information or knowledge; and to act as a resource for journalists and policy makers on major scientific issues and controversies". As Lichter related to the Baltimore Sun in 1998, "journalists are deluged with numbers representing findings in fields they're not familiar with". Its sister organization is the Center for Media and Public Affairs, also affiliated with George Mason.
Lichter serves as the organization's president. Other personnel include director of research Rebecca Goldin, a professor of mathematical sciences at George Mason and the Ruth Michler Fellow at Cornell University, and STATS.org editor Trevor Butterworth, who is also listed as a senior fellow, and writes for the Huffington Post. As of 2010[update], other senior fellows include Maia Szalavitz, a contributor to Reason magazine, and Stephen Rose. The first director of STATS was David Murray, who previously worked for the Heritage Foundation and was later chief scientist for the United States Office of National Drug Control Policy.
The organization does not publicize their donors nor disclose their donors on Internal Revenue Service filings, but a review of IRS documents did show a $100,000 donation from the Sarah Scaife Foundation in 2007, a number that nearly equaled the listed assets of the Statistical Assessment Service. STATS does not accept funding from private companies.
STATS produces an annual list called the "Dubious Data Awards", highlighting egregious factual inaccuracies in news reporting. In 2006, it challenged a study by the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, used by The New York Times and Forbes, which claimed that almost half of the alcohol industry's revenue came from underage drinkers. According to STATS, American teenagers who drink alcohol would each have to consume more than 1,000 drinks per year for this to be true. STATS has also disagreed with recommendations from Time that parents should discontinue use of soft vinyl toys, teethers, and similar products containing phthalates, pointing out that phthalates in children's toys have been cleared for use by both the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the European Union's Institute for Health and Consumer Protection. The annual list has received coverage from The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times, among other news organizations.
During election years, STATS is often quoted in newspaper articles about the use of statistics in political rhetoric. During the presidential election of 2004, the organization challenged claims by both George W. Bush and John Kerry at the request of the Associated Press.
In 2001, Lichter and his staff published It Ain't Necessarily So, a book about the media's coverage of a range of topics from crime statistics to the 2001 anthrax attacks. The Philadelphia Inquirer called it "a solid critique of the way data-based reports and studies are presented in the media", while Salon.com felt that the book employed “the very same tactics that it finds so objectionable when used by journalists and publishers”.
In 2007 STATS sponsored a survey of climate scientists, which was conducted by Harris International. The survey found that most climate scientists believe that human-induced global warming is occurring, although there is disagreement about its consequences, and few trust the popular media coverage of climate change.
A 2009 article in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel argued that STATS's coverage of the chemical Bisphenol A verged on advocacy for the chemical industry. On the STATS website, Lichter posted a detailed response disputing the Journal-Sentinel article, calling its reporting and logic "flawed".
STATS sponsors numerous educational workshops, seminars, and webinars, such as the 2013 webinar, "Understanding Risk: A Primer for Journalists" at the National Press Foundation. Goldin lectures at universities and colleges across the country about the use and misuse of statistics, and was a Nifty Fifty Speaker for the U.S. Science and Engineering Festival in both 2012 and 2014.
- "Numbers get a workout in campaign sport of Extreme Math". Associated Press. 9 April 2004.
- "About Stats". 12 July 2010. Retrieved 12 July 2010.
- Scott Shane (30 October 1998). "Making sure the figures don't lie; Statistics: The tiny staff of the Statistical Assessment Service specializes in debunking press reports that hinge on numbers. Its director denies any political agenda.". The Baltimore Sun.
- "Ruth I. Micheler Memorial Prize of the AWM". awm-math.org. Association for Women in Mathematics. Retrieved 26 July 2010.
- "Maia Szalavitz". Reason Magazine. Retrieved 12 July 2010.
- "Testimony of Dr. David Murray" (PDF). house.gov. Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security. 12 July 2007. Retrieved 26 July 2010.
- Rust, Susanne; Meg Kissinger (22 August 2009). "'Watchdog' advocates for BPA". Journal Sentinel. Retrieved 29 July 2010.
- "Sex-Crazed Teens, Overhyped Abductions and Booze Bunk: Worst Science Journalism of 2006" (Press release). Ascribe Newswire. 29 December 2006.
- Robert Holland (21 January 1998). "This is Your Brain… on White House Data". Richmond Times Dispatch.
- Neill Borowski (2 August 2001). "Media's statistics don't add up, critics say". The Philadelphia Inquirer.
- David Appell (2 July 2001). "It Ain't Necessarily So". salon.com. Retrieved 16 July 2010.
- Marianne Lavelle (23 April 2008). "Survey Tracks Scientists' Growing Climate Concern". usnews.com. Retrieved 21 July 2010.
- Gina Kolata (30 June 2009). "Flaws in the Case Against BPA". TierneyLab (The New York Times).
- Robert S. Lichter (2009). "Dorothy Parker Meets The Marlboro Man: The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's BPA Conspiracy Theory". stats.org. Statistical Assessment Service. Retrieved 26 July 2010.
- :"Understanding Risk: A Primer for Journalists". National Press Foundation. 31 January 2013.
- :"Nifty Fifty – Bring a Top Scientist to your Middle or High School: Dr. Rebecca Goldin". USA Science & Engineering Festival. 2013.