DLGP

Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Media Savvy

Written by: on October 28, 2021

How to Read Numbers is a very engaging and practical book that discusses the different ways in which statistics in the news can be misleading, and how to get a more objective perspective of the reality being presented. In some 22 chapters, Tom and David Chivers explain how less-than-representative and biased samples; rankings; forecasting; and other statistical phenomena are being abused in the media in ways majority of us fail to realize.

The authors wrestle with how truth is grossly lacking within what is arguably one of contemporary society’s most important institutions, the media. Given how influential the media is in providing information and molding the mindset of people around the world, there is little doubt that this is a very relevant book. Indeed, reading Numbers makes one wonder if today does not mirror the time when Isaiah prophesied about truth being “fallen in the street” (Isaiah 59:14).

The Chivers argue that very often the news is incomplete without statistics. Yet, presumably due to marketing reasons, the numbers are often presented in ways that misrepresent the truth. It is therefore imperative that consumers of the news are able to efficiently analyze statistics in the news, sift truth from fallacy, and make decisions based on the whole truth, not skewed perspectives. Using multiple examples in every chapter, the authors highlight how the truth is being stretched, and more importantly, ways in which this can be corrected.

Numbers resonates deeply with me because it highlights the need for alertness and discernment, without being overly suspicious, as I seek to be informed through the media. This is especially important to my leadership because if I become mislead by the media, I will end up misleading my followers. That would be an instance of the blind leading the blind that is very close to home.

Additionally, the Chivers’ explanation of Simpson’s paradox[1] alludes to what has generally been referred to as a numbers game. The prevalence of this syndrome is an important example of front-stage and back-stage leadership, as Simon Walker describes it[2], and represents a significant call to a leadership characterized by transparency, humility, long-term thinking and service. In the Garden of Gethsemane, moments before His crucifixion, Jesus demonstrated transparency to His disciples by expressing how overwhelmed He was with sorrow (Matthew 26:38). This expression of ‘weakness’ completely differs from the ‘perfect image’ many of today’s leaders usually seek to portray. If this scenario was portrayed in statistical terms, it would probably be presented in ‘low numbers’ and not the high numbers usually presented by contemporary leaders through the media. Thankfully, those who humbly present the truth about their situations, even if the image is not an appealing one, will be vindicated by God, for He gives grace to the humble (James 4:6).

In conclusion, Numbers is important to me because if highlights how a correlation between two variables does not automatically imply that one causes the other. But, instead, it could mean the presence of a third, possibly unmentioned variable, that is responsible for the phenomenon under investigation. This implies that critical and broad thinking are indispensable to reading numbers and providing effective leadership.

[1] Chivers, Tom and David Chivers. How to Read Numbers: A Guide to Statistics in the News (and Knowing when to Trust them. (Weinfeld and Nicholson, 2021), p.14.

[2] Walker, Simon P. Leading out of Who You Are: Discovering the Secret of Undefended Leadership. (Carlisle: Piquant, 2007).

About the Author

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Henry Gwani

Disciple, husband, father, community development practitioner and student of leadership working among marginalized communities in South Africa

6 responses to “Media Savvy”

  1. mm Roy Gruber says:

    Henry, I appreciate how you connected this book with Walker’s book and the front-stage, back-stage dynamic. Transparency is such a needed characteristic in any field, but especially in ministry. Thanks also for always taking us to the life and the ministry of Jesus to demonstrate your points.

  2. mm Eric Basye says:

    Excellent post Hentry. I too apprecaited the connection you made to Walker’s book. I also love (continue to love, rather) your connecting these reflections back to Scripture. Spot on. I too hope and pray that we all may grow in critical and board thinking in regard to understanding numbers within the context of our leadership.

  3. Kayli Hillebrand says:

    Henry – your connection to Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane and the portrayal of the sought after leader of today is a great example. I’d imagine in the work you do daily and the focus of your NPO, that this book will be useful as you move forward. Especially when working with vulnerable populations, it can be easy to use statistics that can remove dignity of the individual in order to ‘sell’ the solution. Likewise, I can anticipate that some of the result-oriented data you’ll be able to share with those you work with will motivate more to engage in the empowering work you are doing.

  4. mm Andy Hale says:

    Henry, I’m fascinated to learn how statistics are used within your country? What about the church? I’m intrigued to know how western traditions differ in using and misusing numbers to make progress, win arguments, and influence change.

  5. mm Troy Rappold says:

    Henry: The book resonated deeply with me for the same reasons as you mention. There needs to be a measured skepticism, but not outright pessimism when reading news reporting that include the use of statistics. One needs to exercise wisdom and ask the tough questions about the numbers. They can be portrayed in a misleading light. This book goes a long way in teaching us how to do just that. I’m glad the book was included on our list.

  6. Elmarie Parker says:

    Thank you, Henry, for sharing your engagement with this text. I too always appreciate how you connect our readings to the life of Christ and to what this means for your own leadership development.

    Like Andy, I’d love to hear more on how you experience numbers/statistics being used in your ministry and country context. Do the same challenges show up in the media there as they report on local issues in South Africa or on regional issues? What do you see in ministry settings of how data and numbers are utilized and/or abused?

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