2004 Dubious Data Reporting Awards

The Statistical Assessment Service has announced its 2004 awards for the worst scientific or mathematical media mistakes. There are some gems here. 9. Pumping up Prices After oil prices topped $50 per barrel in November, prophets of petroleum gloom trumpeted “oil sets new record price” in headlines around the county. But these “record” prices were not adjusted for inflation. The record in “real” (i.e. inflation-adjusted) dollars was set back in 1981–$39 then, but equivalent of $66 in 2004. 5. The Risk is Also Silent Phthalates (pronounced “thalates”–the “ph” is silent) are colorless oil-like chemicals used in everything from vinyl to nail polish to children’s toys. In May the Los Angeles Times reported that, based on animal studies, phthalates can cause birth defects and cancer. But the story failed to note that the unfortunate laboratory rats had to absorb the human equivalent of four and half bottles of nail polish every day for seventy years to become ill. Moreover, numerous international studies have shown phthalates to be safe in toys and cosmetics. [on this one, see here] Most of the others are at least as good. Don’t you love it when reporters fail to ask even the most common sense questions about data? Hat tip to Fallacy Files for this news.