Thursday, December 06, 2007

Student newspapers

Perhaps it's a little cheap to mock student newspapers, but what the hell, it's easier to criticise than create! So without further adieu, time to look at the wessex scene, the Southampton university paper.

It's not actually that bad (ignoring the awful formatting here and there), for the most part, but it's rather lacking in comment. Student newspapers vary rarely present news of much note, because they have an even lower field of interest than most local papers, so comment is where it should be at.

But instead we get two "humorous" articles telling us that christmas tunes are annoying and that coca cola have commercialised christmas. Seriously? You are studying a degree and thats the best you can come up with? Humorous comment does not, of course, have to be terribly insightful, but I really don't think anyone above the age of 18 really needs to be told the real meaning of christmas is connecting with your family. I dunno, I suppose I ask to much to be presented with a thought I have not already had several hundred times. Such observations might have been interesting in high school, but I really want a higher class.

Next of all that brings my ire is a university with a large statistical department uncritically presenting silly surveys. We hear news that 75% of graduating students think that IT is geeky. Right. How was this survery conducted? We don't know, but we do know they only sampled 125 people. Also the question is a little leading, and while a lot is read from it, it's not clear whether the people interviewed actually thought being geeky is a bad thing.

More unforgivable is a section which talks about the difference in pay between male and female graduates. 40% of men earn 25,000 or more compared to 26% of women. Important statistics, but meaningless without context. As these are graduates over all, it could be that that difference is due to women entering into degrees that have a lower outcome in pay in large numbers- if 100% women go into philosophy and 100% into maths the pay difference would not be very surprising. It might point at sexism lower down the ladder, but not at employment level. Indeed, without more information it's entirely possible that men are being discrimated against from this data. I am not claiming here that women ARENT being discrimated against, but this data doesn't tell us anything useful about that. A more useful statistic would be to look at men and women in the same subject. That would be far more indicative of discrimination.

I do go on, I know, but stuff like this is important, and papers at all levels need to start getting this right. These kind of mistakes are frequently made by papers of rather larger circulation as well.


At 8:37 am, Blogger Boo and Trev said...

You should write to the Guardian and provide some tips - you could suggest "Bad Statistics" as an occasional column to match "Bad Science". New career beckons? Sort out those lournalists I say, go kieran!


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