Understanding COVID-19 data

Coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic has centred around statistics, but how do journalists make sense of the enormous amounts of data released by health authorities?

In an interview with the Melbourne Press Club, data journalist Craig Butt explained how coronavirus data is conveyed, what to look out for when interpreting it, and key concepts journalists and readers must know.

Watch the full interview on YouTube

Craig said time series graphs (those which track changes in data over time) have been a “very effective” way of quickly giving readers the data they want.

“A lot of these graphs are very simple; they're line graphs or bar charts or column charts," Craig said.

People are pretty much used to [these kinds of charts], so there isn't that kind of instruction manual to have to interpret.”

What has been unusual, however, is the popular use of logarithmic charts.

“Probably one of the most recognizable charts that's been shared quite widely is the log chart that compares countries’ incidents of Coronavirus over time,” Craig said.

“I think this was a graph that was originated by the Grattan Institute, and I think it was picked up independently and used by the Financial Times who have been putting out these graphs every day.

“They are becoming [something] people are checking first thing in the morning so they can see how the slopes of these countries have gone; whether the curve of the country is going up quite high or whether it's beginning to flatten out.”

You can hear Craig’s explanation of log charts and why they’re useful for coronavirus data, as well as his advice for interpreting data from multiple countries, in the full interview.

Watch the full interview on YouTube

Follow Craig on Twitter: @CraigDButt

Read Craig's example articles and explainers:

Find more from the Melbourne Press Club at MelbournePressClub.com

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