The Media

Journalism 101: Numbers Are Your Friend

This is hardly an important story, but it is certainly illustrative of the failure of much of what passes for journalism these days.

A Billings Gazette story argues that the use of hand sanitizer at Will James Middle School in Billings has reduced the number of student absences. In support of this idea, the article offers two passages, other than the two from 8th graders:

Although it can’t be proved that the gel reduced student sick days, Beam said the hospital decided to continue the partnership for another year.

Fifty gel dispensers were installed around the school in January, and officials think the disinfectant has significantly reduced absenteeism.

"Every winter, we go through a spell where we have two or three weeks of kids getting sick," said Wanda Berube, who tracks attendance for the school. "Since we started advertising the hand sanitizer at lunch, it seems to have conquered it."

Maybe I am just a little simple, but wouldn’t the person who "tracks attendance" at the school be able to tell with almost absolute precision whether or not the gel works?  Here’s a crazy idea: compare the January-June without the hand gel to the January-June with it. That  might just reveal whether attendance has improved or not.

Maybe this is the kind of journalism that will win the Lee award next year. 🙂

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.


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  • aside from the journalism-101 issues….when the pandemic flu hits, how many of these germ-free kids are going to survive.

    ugh. the overuse of this stuff is sickening.

  • And even if there had been some statistical correlation, how do we know that it’s caused by the gel hand sanitizer and not by the variation that we notice every year? The answer is that we don’t, which is why we REPEAT trials before drawing scientific conclusions.

    If the world is going to be run by people without the basic capacity for logical thought, maybe I should look into going to Mars, where authority is at least intelligent.

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Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is an eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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