A primer for statistics assessment

In support of the young reporters out there let me put on a small clinic. I refer to a story in the Daily Gleaner about the rise in new motor vehicle sales. Here’s the story:

New motor-vehicle sales in New Brunswick are bucking the national trend, surging to their highest levels in more than five years, according to a report released Monday.

Now, this started out as a good story but I kept waiting for a key statistic that was completely ignored.

The Primer is this. There are a few ways to look at statistics. Historical trending is a good one. So telling us that car sales are at the highest level in five years is a good statistic. Not telling us that car sales – per 100,000 – are still well below the national level and considerably below Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. Why does this matter? Because if you read that article, you would think that car sales are booming. Well, relative to tepid, I guess they are booming.

Then you have a balanced story. Car sales are up but still below the rest of the country.

Would that be so hard?