Understanding the data behind COVID-19 headlines

As we’re all aware, COVID-19 has changed the way we live and work dramatically, especially in countries which have observed lockdowns or declared a state of emergency.

On 30th March, the UK Government briefing (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vDYRXx32Dt0&feature=youtu.be&t=654) explored the data behind social distancing and the impact it’s having on transmission. Elsewhere, we’ve seen the US Centre for Disease Control & Prevention share graphs on its social channels to explain the ‘flatten the curve’ concept (https://twitter.com/CDCgov/status/1245121661688590341?s=20). And around the world, news outlets are using maps, charts and data to keep us informed of developments.

What are your thoughts on how data is being presented to the public? And what role do you think data literacy can play in helping all of us to better understand the headlines we’re seeing and the advice we’re being given? Would love to hear people’s views!  


  • I think this current COVID-19 crisis clearly shows a need for a more data literate society! With graphs, data and visualizations coming at us from all kind of sources the potential of misinforming or drawing wrong conclusions is huge. Every government or institution is measuring in different ways or have other definitions of tested or infected people.

    In the NL we saw there was quite some stress and panic for a few days, simply because a single person compared our figures towards those of Italy, predicting we would face similar amounts of deaths and potentially even more. That comparison was done without clear justifications of the decisions made in the analysis, resulting in misinforming society...

    I have written a short blog about the call for a more data literate society if you're interested: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/covid-19-also-calling-data-literate-society-eelco-lambers/?trackingId=1yge5j3mR%2FWELtoKCD4bLA%3D%3D

    Regards Eelco

  • Hey @eelcolambers, couldn’t agree more! Lots of people are being inundated with data right now, with different graphs and charts and numbers flying around. Thanks for sharing your blog, a really interesting and useful read – we will show it some love on our social channels.

    We actually had very similar thoughts here at the DLP, and have just launched a new ‘Know Your Data’ webinar series to help people understand the language of data used around COVID-19: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCuMUr2ERdmqkzRuc6IvRcZQ

  • Thanks @Hannah_DLP :). Also thanks for sharing the webinar series link, just watched the first webinar and it's indeed valuable. Let's hope this helps in creating that data literate society and steers discussions with regards to COVID-19 towards drawing the right conclusions!

  • edited April 2020

    Thanks for sharing Know Your Data @Hannah_DLP! Vox has also compiled an excellent video that helps give people a better understanding of the popular charts being used to visualize the COVID-19 cases by country. Check it out here:

    @eelcolambers, @Milly_P and the rest of our community - have you seen any recent data visualizations that are hard to follow in the media? How do you think data can be made more accessible than what the news is currently offering? 

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