The Listening Post

Do numbers lie? Data and statistics in the age of coronavirus

How accurate are coronavirus infection and death rates? Plus, Italian journalists on reporting COVID-19.

On The Listening Post this week: Infection rates, death rates – the news is full of statistics about the virus, but how accurate are they? Plus, Italian journalists reflect on reporting COVID-19.

Do numbers lie? Data and statistics in the age of the coronavirus.

COVID-19 is a news story driven by the numbers. The data helps journalists quantify the scale of the pandemic and allows news consumers to assess the risk. The numbers also inform governments on what measures should be taken.

But statisticians say the way in which coronavirus data is collected, interpreted and reported, is inherently flawed. The issue is not misinformation, rather it is the limitations of science, in the early stages of understanding a new virus and a new pandemic.


Jon Allsop – Writer, CJR newsletter

John Ioannidis – Professor, Stanford University

Maggie Koerth – Senior science reporter, FiveThirtyEight

John Allen Paulos – Mathematics professor, Temple University; author of A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper

On our radar:

Richard Gizbert speaks to producer Johanna Hoes about how WhatsApp is trying to stem the flow of misinformation about COVID-19 on its platform.

Pandemic journalism: Italian media grapple with COVID-19

Countries still climbing the coronavirus curve have been looking at nations that are further along – to see what’s coming. Journalists who want to do the same might want to take a long look at Italy. It was the second country to be gripped by COVID-19 and the first in which the media are largely free from government control.

Italy’s nationwide lockdown has been in effect for more than a month, but the government has made an exception for reporters, deeming their work to be an essential service. Those journalists have had their work cut out for them from the start. Trust in the Italian media had been at an all-time low. Nothing like a big news story for a chance to rebuild a reputation. Daniel Turi speaks with three Italian journalists.


Mattia Ferraresi – Reporter, Il Foglio

Giulia Bosetti – Investigative journalist, Rai 3

Carlo Verdelli – Editor-in-chief, La Repubblica