Harvard Updates Health Data Book to Reflect Current Issues

News & Numbers: A Guide to Reporting Statistical Claims and Controversies in Health and Other Fields, a widely used 1989 book by Victor Cohn aimed at helping journalists understand and report on data in the health fields and other fields, was revised and expanded between 1998 and 1999.

At the time of the project, Victor Cohn, a former science editor of the Washington Post, was a visiting fellow at Harvard's School of Public Health Center for Health Communications, of which the project director, Jay A. Winsten, PhD, is director.

News & Numbers contains probability statistics and vital statistics, covers tests and testing, and offers criteria for a sound study. First published in 1989, the original edition had six printings and was well received by professional journals such as the New England Journal of Medicine. News & Numbers has been required reading in many journalism schools, and has been widely used by journalists.

Iowa State University Press, which published the original edition, agreed to publish a new edition of the book and provided Cohn with a $1,500 advance as partial support for his work on revising the book. Before he could complete the revised manuscript, Cohn died. Prior to his death, he turned the project over to Lewis Cope, former president of the National Association of Science Writers.

Key Results

  • The revised book, which was published in July 2001, includes two new chapters covering measurement of quality in hospitals and in managed care plans and the use of polling data.
    • The chapter on risk and the environment was rewritten, and the chapter on statistical principles has been expanded to offer real-life examples of data in 15 different public policy fields, including crime, education, and transportation.