2016 Online - Silver


For the first piece of her award-winning entry, Christie Aschwanden, a reporter for FiveThirtyEight, spent months exploring the seeming rash of reported incidents of misconduct and fraud in scientific research and concluded that the headline-grabbing cases are “mere distractions.” She added: “If we’re going to rely on science as a means for reaching the truth ─ and it’s still the best tool we have ─it’s important that we understand and respect just how difficult it is to get a rigorous result.” She proceeded to highlight that difficulty with a revealing dive into the world of “p-hacking,’ a method for statistically narrowing or expanding a data set to make competing hypotheses appear correct. The results of studies can be heavily reliant on the analytical choices that researchers make, she writes, and those are choices they usually make in good faith. Her second piece delved into the world of memory-based food diaries, questionnaires on self-reported dietary intakes that can be manipulated by p-hacking to produce “statistically relevant” results that are not real. Aschwanden’s third piece explored the so-called “replication crisis” in science, concluding that the resulting emphasis on more transparency and data sharing is a healthy sign that science is working and that no single study can provide definitive evidence. Kate Lunau, the Toronto-based Canada editor for Motherboard, said Aschwanden’s pieces offered a “well-written, clear, concise, and an important view into the scientific process for readers.” She applauded their “good interactive graphics” that “make full use of the digital medium.” Aschwanden said her reporting “sent me down so many rabbit holes that sometimes I wondered if I’d ever crawl out. But obsessions are like that, and I’m so pleased to have finally turned what has become a years-long obsession into something cohesive that might start conversations about important issues in science. When I say that I’m FiveThirtyEight’s Chief p-value correspondent, I’m only partially joking.”