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New Podcast, Radio Program Explore Stories Behind the Statistics

1 July 2013 689 views One Comment

Program created by unlikely pair of Miami University professors

An unlikely pairing of Miami University professors—one in statistics and the other in media studies—has resulted in the creation of a new podcast and radio program called “Stats and Stories” that looks at the stories behind the statistics we use on a daily basis to make decisions.

The program will tap into the growing interest and popularity across the world in statistics and how the data analysis provided by statisticians improves the decisionmaking of governments, private companies, and individuals.

Each “Stats and Stories” episode will feature a guest expert in lively conversation with moderator Bob Long and panelists John Bailer (The Stats Guy) and Richard Campbell (The Stories Guy).

The first episode examines the long-time link between baseball and statistics and how this connection has strengthened with the growing presence of sabermetrics in player and team management. The episode’s featured expert is Jim Albert, co-author of Curveball: Baseball, Statistics, and the Role of Chance in the Game, editor of the Journal of Quantitative Analysis and Sports, and professor of statistics at Bowling Green State University.

Although the initial episode looks at sports, the emphasis of “Stats and Stories” is on the exploration of the stories behind statistics from a wide range of areas, many of which most people are not aware statistics has a role. For instance, the next episode will feature an expert from the U.S. Census Bureau talking about the country’s Decennial Census.

Future expert guests will address the interplay of statistics with forensic science, the assessment of risk using statistics, detecting environmental change using climate models and statistics, projecting national financial patterns by statistical analysis, how statistics helps companies develop customer loyalty programs that customize shopping experiences, and how a dating service uses statistics to select potential matches.

Campbell, chair of the media, journalism, and film department at Miami University, and Bailer, chair of the statistics department, developed the new informational program as a follow-up to a course they team-taught a couple years ago. Their News and Numbers course worked thanks to the interplay between the journalistic narrative and evidence-based decisionmaking perspective of statistics, said Campbell.

“I knew the collaboration would work when Professor Bailer asked the class, ‘What is the story told by the data?’” explained Campbell. “I knew that moment that the connection with the narrative was common ground for us.”

Multiple other factors influenced the development of the “Stats and Stories” program, added Bailer. “Last fall, the presidential election predictions of noted statistician Nate Silver and others, which were derived from statistics and math models, drew increased public attention to the field of statistical science,” explained Bailer. “Also, the recent movie ‘Moneyball’ celebrated the use of data to make better personnel decisions in sports. And finally, 2013 is the International Year of Statistics, a worldwide promotional campaign supported by more than 2,000 organizations from 123 countries that is educating the public about the important contributions of statistics to our global society.”

While neither have experience in radio, Campbell and Bailer are working hard to deliver an informative and entertaining program that they will make available via an online podcast. The partnership with Long, a former National Public Radio (NPR) news director and on-air program host, has smoothed the transition from the classroom to radio/podcast format. The duo also hopes to persuade local NPR stations to air the “Stats and Stories” program.

Bailer is university distinguished professor and chair of the department of statistics at Miami. He is a member of the American Statistical Association and sits on its board of directors. He is an alum of Miami University and has taught at the school since 1988.

Campbell was named director of Miami University’s journalism program in 2004, following teaching roles at Middle Tennessee State, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Mount Mary College, and the University of Michigan. He recently was appointed chair of Miami University’s new department of media journalism and film.

Long is a visiting instructor in the new media department at Miami. He spent nearly 26 years in broadcast news, serving as news director of two commercial radio stations and two public radio stations.

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