Statistics has a new name

July 29, 2011  |  Statistics

Simon Rogers, for The Guardian, outlines the new, hot trend on the block data journalism. It's a good, quick bullet list for what it's all about. Rogers thinks back:

Two years ago, when we launched the Datablog, all this was new. People still asked if getting stories from data was really journalism and not everyone had seen Adrian Holovaty's riposte. But once you've had MPs expenses and Wikileaks, the startling thing is that no-one asks those questions anymore. Instead, they want to know, "how do we do it?"

Further down, he notes:

You can become a top coder if you want. But the bigger task is to think about the data like a journalist, rather than an analyst. What's interesting about these numbers? What's new? What would happen if I mashed it up with something else? Answering those questions is more important than anything else.

That is what an analyst does though. A good one at least. If you're an analyst (or a statistician) and you're not asking what's interesting about the numbers, then you're in the wrong profession. So really, if you're a statistician, you very well could take up data journalism. Or another job with data in the title.

A natural reaction to statistics, even among some statisticians, is that once you graduate you either go into research or you work as a number-crunching monkey. If that's your thing, go for it with gusto, but if not, there's a lot of opportunity out there and on the way (in a variety of fields) for stat people — data journalists, information designers, data scientists, analysts, data artists, or whatever you want to call it. At the core, it's working with data, and that's what statisticians do best.

4 Comments

  • I agree with everything you said, but how does one find this type of work? I have a stats degree and while looking for jobs i get the feeling that everyone see me as primarily a number cruncher. The more analytical roles seems to go to people with Economics degrees.

  • Thanks for linking to this article, very interesting.

    @Thomas It’s funny, in my experience those with Economics degress are thought of as being less analytical, and I work in the Financial Services industry. Either way I think it’s all about how you spin yourself.

  • This post links to Simon Rogers in the Guardian. In that original DataBlog post (his point 9) he makes the most important comment: “… the bigger task is to think about the data like a journalist, rather than an analyst. What’s interesting about these numbers? What’s new? What would happen if I mashed it up with something else? Answering those questions is more important than anything else.”

    Numbers and statistics is the tool, but the real work is in being (in his case) a journalist and concerning yourself with the social aspects of what the numbers mean. So perhaps a stats degree is only a starting point. Maybe some journalism qualification as well is needed. I don’t know how higher education works in the USA, but in the UK this sounds like a combined degree in journalism and statistics may be the way to go.

  • @Thomas
    I’m a fellow statistics major. The key to getting cool data analytics jobs seems to be a computer science major or at least some computer skills to boast of. I think this makes sense as a lot of computer companies (think, Google) have just loads of really cool and sometimes relatively unexplored data. Just my experience though. :)

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