Should You Believe It? Use and Misuse of Statistics in the Media

Posted: January 18, 2011 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: January 17, 2011 at 10:05 am

Rebecca Goldin

Rebecca Goldin, associate professor of mathematical sciences, spends a lot of her time critically evaluating media stories.

In the next Vision Series lecture, “Should You Believe It? Use and Misuse of Statistics in the Media,” Goldin will examine news accounts that are filled with numbers and implicit advice. How much coffee is too much? Is the Internet making us smarter or dumber? Do vitamins improve our health or harm us?

Goldin will give her lecture on Monday, Jan. 31 at 7 p.m. at the Center for the Arts Concert Hall on the Fairfax Campus.

In contexts as diverse as criminal courts, opinion surveys and our personal health, statistics are playing a larger and larger role, Goldin says.

Despite our need for clear rendering of numerical information, many media accounts using statistics are misleading, Goldin has found. Eye-catching headlines typically promote exaggerated benefits of medical treatment, exaggerated risks of everyday living and tragic or comic opinions of survey respondents.

In this lecture, Goldin will use recent news accounts, both humorous and serious, to illustrate this process and to suggest how one can become a savvy news consumer. She’ll explain how numbers can be powerful when we move past politics and morality to clarify what science actually tells us, what it does not and what it cannot.

Goldin is director of research for Statistical Assessment Service (STATS), a nonprofit, nonpartisan resource affiliated with Mason on the use and abuse of science and statistics in the media.

She holds a PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in mathematics, and a BA cum laude from Harvard University. Goldin did postdoctoral work at University of Maryland before she joined Mason.

She is a member of the Science Policy Committee of the American Mathematical Society and the advisory board of Math for America: DC, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving math education in secondary public schools in the United States.

Goldin has published numerous research articles in internationally recognized mathematics journals, and regularly speaks at conferences across North America, Europe and Asia. She has received several awards from the National Science Foundation to support her research in mathematics and education, and her work for STATS is partially supported by the NSF.

In 2007 she received the Ruth I. Michler Memorial Prize from the Association of Women in Mathematics and spent a semester at Cornell University on a fellowship that year. In 2008, Goldin was named one of the winners of Mason’s Emerging Researcher, Scholar and Creator Awards.

Ticket information: Free tickets are required. Tickets are available online, at the Center for the Arts Ticket Office (open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.), and on the evening of the event.

Write to mediarel at