Statistical Excellence in Journalism Awards: 2023 winners

We are pleased to announce this year’s Statistical Excellence in Journalism Award winners. Awards were presented at a ceremony at Errol Street, in four categories: ‘explaining the facts’, ‘data visualisation’ ‘investigative journalism’ and ‘best statistical commentary by a non-journalist’.

The awards, now in their 17th 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: ‘The use of statistics in journalism has really gone from strength to strength over the last few years and that quality is reflected in this year’s winning articles. I would like to give my heartfelt congratulations to this year’s winners for their excellent work and commitment to the good use of data.

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. In an increasingly complex and uncertain world, informed commentary based on the accurate use of relevant data can help us all separate fact from fiction and respond to social, economic and political challenges.&rsquo

Best statistical commentary by a non-journalist

Winner:Physics: Do girls avoid it because it’s too hard? – Prof Christina Pagel, BBC Science Focus, 9 May 2022

This article explores the claim from chair of the government’s Social Mobility Commission, Katharine Birbalsingh, that the low take-up by girls of Physics A-level was due them disliking ‘the hard maths’ involved. By disputing this claim with the evidence that girls have done slightly better at both GCSE and A-level maths than boys, Pagel was able to go on to look at the different factors at play, including the impact of subjects on career choices, stereotypes and the curriculum. The judges thought it used statistics and evidence powerfully to explore a topical issue of great societal importance.

Highly commended:When will you ever need to use maths in real life? The answer is easy – Dr Kit Yates, Independent, 5 November 2022 

This article explores the real-life applications of mathematical sciences in day-to-day life, from the use of modelling to make predictions during the pandemic to opinion polls on politicians. The judges found it very engaging, bringing the numerous uses of maths to life.

Data visualisation

Winner: Lights over Ukraine: the energy war, Kieran Devine, Ben van der Merwe, James Packer, Phoebe Rowe, Isla Glaister, Matthew Price, Sky News Data & Forensics Unit, 23 December 2022 

This article took an exclusive look at satellite imagery from Ukraine showing the impact of Russia’s attacks on crucial elements of its electricity grid and how its cities’ light levels have decreased as the conflict has gone on. With Ukraine having ceased publication of statistics from its power operators, the team at Sky turned to imagery from NASA to analyse the effect over time and in different areas. The judges thought the data visualisation used was very impressive, giving a powerful and stark visual and really added to the story in helping explain the complex issues involved.

Highly commended: Mapping where the earth will become uninhabitable - Ida Flik, André Pätzold, Benja Zehr, FUNKE Zentralredaktion, 4 April 2022 

This interactive article examines the likely impact of climate change across the world over time, looking at rising temperatures, water scarcity, sea level rises and extreme weather events. The judges were impressed with the striking use of cutting edge visualisation to demonstrate the severity of climate change’s impact.  

Explaining the facts

Winner: Rape charge rates: thousands of victims left waiting since 2020 for police charging decision, Harriet Clugston, NationalWorld, 27 May 2022  

This article analyses Home Office data to source the harrowing statistic that if you reported a rape in England and Wales in 2020, there was a one in eight chance you were still waiting in 2022 for a decision on whether charges would be made. It breaks this down by police force and details the average wait. The panel was very impressed with the use of official statistics and a topical case study to stimulate a wider discussion on this important issue. 

Highly commended: Typical!  - Anna Lawlor (freelance for Loftus Media), BBC Radio 4, 27 June 2022 

This radio programme looked at the stories behind our official statistics and how, while the mean and median may dominate reporting, often the mode tells us a different story about life experiences of those in the UK. The panel was impressed with how engagingly the programme explained some classic problems of statistical interpretation and its use of statistics to challenge misconceptions.  

Investigative journalism

Winner:Revealed: ‘disturbing’ race divide on cancer patients’ wait times in England, Andrew Gregory, Guardian, 28 August 2022

This analysis of NHS waiting times in collaboration with the University of Exeter, found that black and Asian people in England have to wait longer than white people for a cancer diagnosis, with some waiting an extra six weeks. The article, part of a series investigating major health disparities, breaks the wait times down for different types of cancer, with comments from a number of cancer charities. The panel was impressed with the very accessible and readable analysis of this important issue, with the power of the piece demonstrated by it making the front page of the paper.

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