Statistical Excellence in Journalism Awards: 2022 winners

We are pleased to announce this year’s Statistical Excellence in Journalism Award winners. For this year, a new category has been introduced – ‘Best statistical commentary by a non-journalist’, awarded to a statistician or data scientist for outstanding analysis of a topical issue. Awards were also presented in the ‘explaining the facts’, ‘data visualisation’ and ‘investigative journalism’ categories.

The awards, now in their sixteenth year, are kindly sponsored by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

Professor Christl Donnelly, RSS VP for External Affairs and chair of the awards, said: ‘It’s fantastic to see such variety in this year’s winning entries and the efforts made by all to use data in their reporting in ways which are both engaging and statistically robust. I wish to give my heartfelt congratulations to the winners.’
Dr Catherine Bromley, ESRC deputy director of data strategy and infrastructure, added: ‘ESRC is delighted to support these awards and I congratulate all the winners. Informing the public and building trust through articles and commentary that expertly use robust evidence and data is vital - especially when society is increasingly faced with having to separate fact from fiction so frequently.’
Best statistical commentary by a non-journalist
Highly commended: The crisis in Covid vaccine messaging is leaving pregnant women unprotected from Omicron, Saloni Dattani, New Statesman, 17 December 2021
This article, by PhD candidate Saloni Dattani looked into low vaccination uptake among pregnant women during the Omicron wave. It debunked common myths about vaccine risk during pregnancy, such as the vaccine causing infertility. The judges for this category were impressed with how accessible the piece was, while maintaining statistical rigour. It was considered to be a powerful example of using statistics to give clarity on an urgent, neglected issue.
Winner: On Covid, we need to be careful when we talk about numbers, David Spiegelhalter & Anthony Masters, Observer, 14 November 2021
This article, which was part of a series of 50 articles by the authors, explored some recent errors in the communication of Covid statistics, from misinterpretation to poor presentation. It stresses that speaking about data ‘means more than reiterating numbers’, and calls on producers of statistics to guide readers on how their data should be used. The judges considered this - and the wider series - to be a standout piece of work. In a short number of words it explains the nuances of how statistics can be misused and how statistical communication could be improved.
Explaining the facts
Highly commended: When will Omicron peak?, Tom Calver, Sunday Times, 18 December 2021 
With the Omicron variant dominating the headlines in December last year, this article effectively explores predictions around the number of cases, and when the variant was expected to peak. The article was considered by the panel to be a clear and engaging read which was comprehensive in its use of statistics from different sources.
Winner: Why are fully vaccinated people testing positive for Covid?, Oliver Barnes & John Burn-Murdoch Financial Times, 23 July 2021
This article is a strong example of how statistics and data can answer the questions everyone’s asking – in this case around the protection vaccines can offer against Covid-19. The panel was impressed with how clearly and engagingly the issues were explained and the use of data visualisation.
Investigative journalism
Highly commended: Police-recorded LGBT hate crimes up sharply since lockdown, Ian Jones and Gemma Crew, PA News Agency, 3 December 2021
This investigation used Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to UK police forces to obtain new figures on LGBTQ+ hate crimes, finding a sharp increase following the relaxing of lockdown restrictions. The judges were impressed with the use of FOI requests to gain access to data and the clear explanation of the figures.
Highly commended: The pandemic's true death toll, Sondre Ulvund Solstad and the wider team (Martín González, Matt McLean, Oliver Morton and Dan Rosenheck), Economist, 2 November 2021
With different countries counting Covid-19 death rates differently and with poorer countries often lacking the infrastructure to detect many cases of the disease, a full picture was lacking on its impact. This investigation looked to tackle this, by sourcing estimates of excess deaths for every country in the world. The sheer scale of this project, which was the first of its kind, is to be commended, as well as the way in which the story is told, explaining clearly how statistical methods can help us understand the true impact of Covid-19.  
Winner: Police more likely to bring charges for rape, sexual assault and domestic abuse cases when victim is white, Harriet Clugston, NationalWorld, 2 November 2021
This project, through the use of FOI requests, exposed a justice gap with the vast majority of UK police forces having lower charge rates when the victim was from an ethnic minority background. This investigation, the first time such cases had been analysed by victim ethnicity, shed light on a considerable data gap within the UK justice systems. The panel was impressed with the way in which the data was sourced and used to highlight how such an important issue had been overlooked.
Data visualisation
Highly commended: Levelling Up: Has COVID-19 changed the maths of where funding should go?, Amy Borrett, Sky News, 20 December 2021
With ‘levelling up’ a key government policy, this article looked into the impact of the pandemic on funding allocation, and highlights some of the misconceptions around different regions’ funding needs. The use of jitter plots and graphs was done in a user-friendly way, and well complimented by the accompanying commentary from experts.
Winner: Spain lives in flats: why we have built our cities vertically, Raúl Sánchez and Analía Plaza,, 30 September 2021
With a third of people in Spain living in apartments, this data visualisation project looked to answer why, analysing the footprint of residential buildings across the country. Through use of an R script the journalists were able to download a wealth of information about the distribution of buildings across Spain, to take the reader through an interactive journey. The article was considered to be really innovative and engaging while the data was displayed with integrity.
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