On Writing About Data
How Not to Write About Statistics Unless You Enjoy Looking Stupid
Here’s a real-world screw up from the recent jobs report coverage and how to fix it
One phrase from CNBC’s September’s jobs creation comes up short with gain of just 194,000 immediately downgraded it from an informative news article to clickbait junk.
Nonfarm payrolls rose by just 190,000 in the month, compared with the Dow Jones estimate of 500,000, the Labor Department reported Friday. (Cox, 2021)
While this statement appears factual, it contains multiple errors and misrepresentations of fact. The most glaring issue is who reported Friday.
The Labor Department does not exist.
Presumably, this refers to the United States Department of Labor, commonly abbreviated as the DOL. Writers sometimes shorten this to the Department of Labor or even the Labor Department. While abbreviating “United States” as “US” is okay, substituting an alternative name or abbreviation for an agency’s name should only occur after using its full name.
Worse, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) issues the Employment Situation report, commonly called the jobs report. While the BLS is a subagency under the Department of Labor, attributing its reports solely to its parent agency is incorrect. BLS is a well-known agency. Therefore, its reports may be attributed to either the US Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics or the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
It incorrectly cites Dow Jones
Dow Jones is short for Dow Jones & Company, Inc. — a subsidiary of News Corp. They publish The Wall Street Journal. It conducts the Wall Street Journal Economic Forecasting Survey, which is the same one CNBC calls “Dow Jones.”
Dow Jones publishes newspapers. The newspapers publish surveys, not the other way around. Sometimes, we may access this information through a Dow Jones product like Factiva, but that does not change the publisher or the survey’s actual name.
You all know I love numbers a little too much sometimes. This next one may not seem like a big deal to most…