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It Ain't Necessarily So: How the Media Remake Our Picture of Reality [Paperback]

By David Murray (Author), Joel Schwartz (Author) & S. Robert Lichter (Author)
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Item Specifications...

Pages   272
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 7.98" Width: 5.32" Height: 0.64"
Weight:   0.55 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Sep 24, 2002
Publisher   Penguin (Non-Classics)
Age  18
ISBN  0142001465  
EAN  9780142001462  
UPC  051488015000  

Availability  0 units.

Item Description...
Anthrax scares. Airplane crashes. The AIDS epidemic. Presidential election polls and voting results. Global warming. All these news stories require scientific savvy, first to report, and then-for the average person-to understand. "It Ain't Necessarily So" cuts through the confusion and inaccuracies surrounding media reporting of scientific studies, surveys, and statistics. Whether the problem is bad science, media politics, or a simple lack of information or knowledge, this book gives news consumers the tools to penetrate the hype and dig out the facts.
"Whether it's a scientific study on day care or health care, hunger in America or the environment, once it gets into the hands of journalists - look out You may think you're getting the straight story - but it ain't necessarily so, as this aptly named book makes clear. But beware: "It Ain't Necessarily So" may confirm your worst fears about the media. Which is precisely why it's such an important contribution to our understanding of how things really operate inside the American newsroom." (Bernard Goldberg, author of "Bias")

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More About David Murray, Joel Schwartz & S. Robert Lichter

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! David Murray is director of the Statistical Assessment Service in Washington, D.C., and an adjunct professor at Georgetown University.

Joel Schwartz is senior adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute.

S. Robert Lichter is president of the Center for Media and Public Affairs in Washington, D.C.

David Murray was born in 1962.

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Reviews - What do our customers think?
It's ain't worth reading the whole book  Jun 12, 2008
PROS: Reminds people (over and over again) to be skeptical. It's objective and doesn't always side with one political agenda. It teaches general skepticism and intelligent reading of the news, polls, and scientific reports.

CONS: The book doesn't need to be so long. The first two pages of each chapter was all I needed to get the point. The rest is just details.

CONCLUSION: For those who love the details of how the media can mislead the public, this is a great book. For most of us, just browse this book and you'll get the idea.
The results of any study can be preordained  Aug 9, 2007
That's right. The results of ANY scientific study can easily be preordained by the selection of stimuli, how the hypothetical constructs involved are operationally defined, the experimental protocol employed, the statistical analysis chosen, the level at which the data are aggregated, etc. Statistics without context are MEANINGLESS. What this means is that it all boils down to the integrity of the researcher. (As Bertrand Russell said, what is wanted is not a will to believe but a wish to find out, which is the exact opposite.) It gets even worse when reporters and journalists get their hands on the results of scientific studies, because they are largely composed of people wholly untrained to interpret and report the data they are going on about! Examples: If blacks are rejected for mortgage loans more than whites is that evidence of racism? What if whites are rejected more than Asians? Have you heard that 1 out of 4 women are victims or rape? Almost everyone has, because the media went ape $hit with that story. What most people don't know is how "rape" was operationally defined. If a woman had a little to much to drink and then willingly slept with someone and later regretted drinking too much and having sex, that, in this study, counted as "rape." Further, most of the female subjects in the study that were classified as "rape" victims disagreed that they had ever been raped. That didn't dissuade the researcher, who had an obvious agenda. Research on spanking kids is often misleading too, because "spanking" is typically operationally defined so that it includes downright child abuse, such as belting and beating. This book is must reading for anyone who wants to become a more critical consumer of information in this information-driven world, and that should be everyone.
How science gets dumbed down and ginned up  Nov 9, 2006
It is more than curious that in a nation where most people avoid science courses in high school, most people also avidly absorb news stories based on scientific research.
That implies a high confidence among readers that reporters can adequately explain the proper import of research that the readers are unqualified to judge for themselves.
David Murray, Joel Schwartz and Robert Lichter suggest they ought to be less trusting.
There have been a number of accessible books debunking various scares that got a good press, notably the late Aaron Wildavsky's "But Is It True?" "It Ain't Necessarily So" takes a different tack.
Rather than assessing the validity of the scares themselves, the authors examine how newspapers covered a wide variety of stories, from global warming to the extent of domestic violence.
They found that quality was spotty, and the most prestigious papers were as likely to screw up as anyone else. (They ignored, quite properly, electronic "journalism.") Many stories were covered (in their view) adequately in one sheet and deplorably carelessly in another; and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette was as likely to outperform The Washington Post as the other way around on a particular story.
The book is arranged in chapters of case studies, each chapter illustrating a different way news supposedly based on science can be misreported.
Topics include why worthy stories sometimes get little attention, why news mountains are heaped up out of research molehills, how statistics can be cooked, the pitfalls of surveys and of drawing conclusions by measuring proxies rather than the real thing, and various statistical alarums and excursions.
Their orientation is that the situation is not nearly as gloomy as we have been led to think.
"What if," they ask, "the magnitude of our daily dangers has been considerably overblown? What if, in fact, neither the underlying science nor the overlying headline . . . was quite what it seemed to be?"
Murray is director of the Statistical Assessment Service in Washington, D.C.; Schwartz is a senior adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute; and Lichter is president of the Center for Media and Public Affairs in Washington.
Although their studies are of how news was covered, their method has the effect of also presenting evidence debunking various stories. (It is essential to read the endnotes, which make up nearly a fifth of the book and contain important details not in the main text.)
Most of these doused stories are what might be called green panics: silicone breast implants, electromagnetic field poisoning, etc. Other stories having their significance devalued here are leftish ideas, such as that minorities are discriminated against in getting mortgage loans or that poverty is a cause of elevated infant mortality.
There was room for a postscript (but there is none) considering whether they chose their examples because a) they had another agenda besides the stated one; or, b) editors run a lot more dubious panic stories from the left than from the right.
I'd put my money on b if I had to guess.
Anyhow, their analysis of what kinds of misreports were made is solid, and their understanding of the pressures on reporters is profound.
"Despite our criticism," they write, "we nevertheless have an abiding respect for the journalists who serve us in a vital capacity."
True enough, people who don't get their science filtered through reporters are not going to get any science in their intellectual diet at all.

Ought to be a national bestseller  Dec 31, 2004
Lately there have been some books on grammar that have been international bestsellers. Makes sense to me, because lot's of people stuggle with grammar but are afraid to admit it. On that same line of reasoning, this is a "sleeper" book that ought to be bestseller. In America almost every day we are bombarded with statistics that allege to explain to us the state of the world around us. Sometimes these statitistics prompt us, either as individuals or a nation, to take immediate and sometimes drastic action. Billboards that tell us "1 in 4 Children are Overweight" attract the attention of even our top policy makers in Washington, prompting them to consider mandating wholesale reform in school lunch menus. Examples like this are replete. But how much can we trust those statistics? Are they always fair and objective? Have they been vetted by an independent body befor they are broadcast to the general public? Do some organizations that publish life influencing statistics have hidden agendas? It would be my guess that: ONLY 1 in 5OO AMERICANS HAVE A CLUE HOW BADLY THEY ARE BEING DUPED BY THE STATISTICS MERCHANTS.

I think you better read this book. What you learn may surprise.

It Ain't Necessarily Worth Reading  Apr 17, 2003
This book is not riddled with factual errors, but information is presented in an extrememly misleading way. For instance, in its treatment of climate change, a long section (pp. 49-52) criticizes the media for reporting a story on the northward range shift of a California butterfly. "One swallow does not a summer make," the authors state, and argue that the media should not jump on a story like this in association with climate change because it reports information from just one butterfly species. This sounds reasonable, but there is a problem.

The book ignores a study that was published only a year after the original butterfly report, in 1999, by the same author in the same journal. This second study reported that in a total of 35 butterfly species examined, 63% showed a poleward shift (indicative of climate change) while only 3% shifted toward the equator. (Parmesan, C, N et al. Poleward shift of butterfly species? ranges associated with regional warming. Nature 399:579-583) Since this study was published 3 years before my 2002 edition of "It Ain't Necessarily So" these authors have had ample time to update their discussion of this issue. That they have not would indicate that they are incompetent, inattentive, or biased, none of which flatters their overall reliability.

In a wider sense, the butterfly range shift is one of the most innocuous issues the media could have possibly addressed regarding climate change. As a instructor in environmental science at the University of California, I am well-read in both the primary scientific literature on climate change and the media's coverage of climate change, and overall I'd argue that the media has failed to raise sufficient awareness regarding the dangers of climate change, which by any scientific consensus will dominate human affairs in a very detrimental way for years to come.

The butterfly example is symptomatic of most of the book. A political agenda is suggested instead of mere incompetence by the authors' affiliations. One author, Joel Schwartz, is a fellow at the Hudson Institute, which PR Watch ... says has an "agenda of (its) own: debunking global warming, extinction reports, and other issues that paint an unflattering issue of their corporate sponsors."

Another author, Robert Lichter, is president of the Center for Media and Public Affairs (CMPA), which PR Watch calls "a deeply hypocritical organization that pretends to be objective, empirical, and impartial when in fact it is a right-wing organization with a permanent agenda of hostility to environmentalists and consumer advocates."

The book is not bad in the sense that most of us think of the word; rather, it is bad in a calculated and negligent fashion, pushing what can only be interpreted as an agenda that matches that of the groups that employ its authors. If you want insight into how the media covers critical issues, you won't find it here.

Matthew Orr, PhD


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