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

Read sensational News with skepticism but analyze for the objective truth.

Written by: on October 31, 2021

Tom Chivers is a freelance science writer, author and arts producer who has won several awards for his books and journalism including, the Royal Statistical Society ‘Statistical Excellence in Journalism’ award in 2018. David Chivers is an assistant professor of Economics at Durham university and formerly a lecturer at University of Oxford. The common stereo type for journalism is sensationalism in reporting to capture the attention of the readers, it probably is a skill and competence of how to present news to capture the attention of the reader. This approach to presentation falls prey to misrepresentation of the truth and biases which make such data to be very unreliable. Tom Chivers and David Chivers show how to read statistics that are presented in the news by providing the necessary tools, to read the numbers in the news and also show us how we often get them wrong.[1] They provide the much-required tools to help us read the numbers in the news with knowledge and highlight how these numbers can be very misleading. Chivers as a journalist himself is best placed to guide on how to analyze the numbers in the news because he is a practitioner in news publication.

Statistics are relied upon and are a powerful tool of understanding the world, and indeed the best tool available but when they are in the wrong hands, they can be dangerous. Chivers help us on how to spot the common mistakes and tricks that can be misleading, making one to think that small numbers are big, or unimportant changes are important. They reveal to us how these numbers in the news are made, and how surveys with small or biased samples can produces wrong answers and how ice cream does not cause drowning. We encounter numbers and data every day and its very important to make sense of them by separating the good from the bad, the true from the false. The book “How To Read Numbers” make it easier to know when and how to trust the numbers in the news, and equally important when and how not to trust them.

We are all subject to cognitive biases and are always making simple errors in our day to day thinking. Being able to understand these biases and simple errors and how to spot them, is of great value for decision making. We can avoid the cognitive biases and the errors to make better choices in dealing with our personal problems, business negotiations to save or make money, and in making choices of what we want or do not want in life, and how best to get them.[2] Jordan Ellenberg in communicating the relevance of mathematics in our everyday life highlights how media houses give numbers in their news, that are not backed up with data.[3]

There are too many claims that are made public through the news and advertisements either as informative news, promises of benefits, and warnings about risks. The truth is that there is so much information that is disseminated to the public that it can easily confuse or overwhelm, its important to be well equipped with the necessary tools to make sense of the information and make the right decisions, especially as a leader. Leadership is about taking responsibility to lead people in the right direction, and it entails making the right decisions and facilitating others to make the right decisions for the greater good of all the people we lead. As I read How to Read Numbers, It occurred to me how irresponsible a leader can be, to take news at their face value and rely on them to make important decisions. I have been a victim of reading the numbers presented in the news and using them in decision making or dismissing ideas, or opportunities which is disastrous and I know that I am not alone. Many leaders of churches and other organizations, mislead their followers and loose out on opportunities everyday because they lack this knowledge. It is like groping in the darkness and stumbling over what you cannot see or being lost in a maze. I really like the book because its written for both the statistics expert and the lay person with little knowledge in statistics. As a leader I can easily use this book and the tools provided to make better judgement and better interpret information for optimal decision making. It is a book that I will add to my library as a reference and recommend to other leaders that work closely with me in the ministry.

As I research for my doctorate project, this is a valuable book that has equipped me for making the right conclusions and reducing on possible biases. I will collect data in the course of my research which includes literature review with a big likelihood of gathering data from news articles whose numbers I’m now better equipped to analyze and make appropriate conclusions. With my topic on the case for holistic ministry to the poor and vulnerable communities, I have already come across differing statistics of the demographic distribution of the poor in the rural and urban areas of my country Kenya. The information from the government bureau of statistics differs with the numbers given by the media houses. I can readily see how the tools provided in this book will be helpful in making sense of these differing statistics. On the one hand, the government has its own biases towards achieving their objectives and is likely to report the numbers to favor their objectives while the news media will report with the aim of attracting readership for their own business interests. Both sets of numbers call for the use of the necessary statistical tools to arrive at the objective numbers.

[1] Tom Chivers & David Chivers. How To Read Numbers: A Guide To Stats in The News (And Knowing When to Trust Them). (London, England. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2021).

[2] Rolf Dobelli. The Art of Thinking Clearly: Better Thinking, Better Decisions. (London, England. Sceptre, 2014

[3] Jordan Ellenberg. How Not to be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking. (Westminister, London, England. Penguin Books, 2015).

About the Author


Mary Kamau

Christ follower, Mother of 3 Biological children and one Foster daughter, Wife, Pastor, Executive Director of Institutional Development and Strategy in Missions of Hope International, www.mohiafrica.org.

4 responses to “Read sensational News with skepticism but analyze for the objective truth.”

  1. mm Nicole Richardson says:

    Mary, It sounds like you truly connected to this book and will find it to be useful as your work on your NPO. I wonder what one or two tools of this book you find the most powerful for your context?
    I agree that leaders must be careful to not mislead in the use of statistics/numbers. How will this book guide you in awareness of the biases around you?

  2. mm Denise Johnson says:

    I nice overview of the book and it’s value to anyone and everyone to be better equipped to make wiser choices, especially as they may lead others.

    You connection with your own doctoral process is enlightening. The fact that you have been able to pinpoint the differing statistics from the various sources and see their bias is amazing.

    I had a similar thoughts as Nicole, have you seen how your own biases are effecting your project? And how might you determine from the sources of data you found what is actually true or close to the truth and what is far from representing the real picture?

  3. mm Troy Rappold says:

    Your perspective is interesting because of the biases you mention in your country that exists within the government and that of the media. This book is perfect to help you read both sets of statistics with a healthy does of skepticism. After reading this book I feel better equipped to interpret any set of numbers given to me by a news source. The principles are applicable for any set of data.

  4. Elmarie Parker says:

    Hi Mary. I’m thrilled to read your post! I’ve been missing your voice and perspective in these on-line conversations. Thank you for this summary and the practical ways you have connected Chivers and Chivers insights to your NPO and context.

    This quote from you grabbed my attention: “Leadership is about taking responsibility to lead people in the right direction, and it entails making the right decisions and facilitating others to make the right decisions for the greater good of all the people we lead.” I’m looking forward to learning from you how you integrate this commitment into your NPO and the impact it will make in Kenya.

    As you explore the development of holistic ministry, I’m curious if and how you may include a training/equipping module (for lack of a better word) on reading/listening to the news with awareness? Do you think this would be relevant to the people you most engage with your ministry and your fellow leaders?

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