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May 18 / King Kaufman wants to help journalists use numbers and math for good, not ill

The Columbia Journalism Review wrote about Trevor Butterworth last week, as this blog did in October.

Butterworth is, as CJR describes him in its headline, “the man who wants to help journalists with numbers.”

As the editor of, Butterworth has long facilitated an informal advice-giving process for journalists in need of numerical guidance. But it’s only in the last month that the official advisory board became active, after a collaboration with the British charity Sense About Science and the American Statistical Association allowed the site to expand its reach.

Here’s Butterworth writing on’s about page:

Now, everything is becoming a data point, and everything is becoming searchable and analyzable. Instead of hypotheses seeking data, billions of data points seek hypotheses. As we once looked to the stars, we now look to databases to reveal new truths about the universe and our place within it.

Statistics is the only way to hold this new empiricism accountable; statistics is—in our information age—the new journalism. Which is, presently, a problem. If you are a statistician you are unlikely to engage in journalism in a serious way, and if you are a journalist you are unlikely to engage in statistics in a serious way.

He’s talking about covering science and healthcare there, two fields where numbers are thrown around—and manipulated—a lot. But the sentiment applies across journalism, including in sports, where numbers are everywhere, and they’re often manipulated by someone trying to make a point.

The site’s blog offers examples of numerical watchdogging that illustrate ways of getting at the question that forms the basis for all data journalism: “Is this really true?”