Electronic Eye August 2017

Diving Deep:  Accessing Information Using the Statista Portal 

Kathleen Meulen

I don’t think that I have to explain at length about the place we are at in terms of our society’s value for truth and credibility.  It is alarming.  I have heard college professors use the term “state of emergency” to describe the situation and I completely agree with them.  But as much as I am disturbed by the erosion of our culture’s desire to make decisions based on facts and evidence, I am also heartened by the degree of effort that my colleagues and our profession are putting into combating the challenge of false information.  Librarians continue to fight the acceptance of lies and deception with education on critical thinking skills and access to credible resources and I am glad to be a part of this profession.

My role as your VOYA “Electronic Eye” columnist continues to be to provide you with in-depth reviews of authoritative online resources that can help make this an easier task to accomplish. I have one that can help with this goal:  Statista (http://www.statista.com).

As the name implies, Statista is a database of statistics. it is international in scope and can provide users with “immediate access to over 1 million statistics and facts.”  Not only does Statista provide information from over 18,000 sources, it covers over 80,000 topics.  It also employs around 450 statisticians, database experts, analysts, and editors to help make users make sense of the information.  Some of these 450 people include individuals with the job title “Data Journalist.”  I will explain more about them later.

While Statista has a history that stretches back to 2008, it has primarily been a resource for the business sector that is also available to the academic world.  There are over 10,000 companies in a variety of industries that put this portal to use.  They have recently started to market it to institutions that serve the young adult population as well, including secondary schools.  This review will try to elaborate on its usefulness to this market and how a young adult researcher might respond to the product.  This is not an exhaustive review of Statista as I will not be spending time exploring its many uses in business and industry.

There is indeed a real need for young adults to be able to locate credible statistics to use as evidence to support their arguments.  The English Language Arts Common Core state standards require this level of research for students in the upper grades.  Teachers often require their students to include a few statistics as a part of their writing, which leaves them often trying to Google potential questions in the hopes that the World Wide Web will provide them with a reasonable answer.  That answer may or may not be from a credible source.  Googled questions with the terms that start with the words “How many…” or “What is the number…” often lead a researcher to an answers forum like Answers.com or Quora.  Most frequently, the forum answers do not cite sources and I do not consider them to be strongly credible.

Beyond a few statistics to use with their research, young adults can also benefit from explanatory information that helps them understand the background behind the data.  The “Data Journalists” of Statista are providing that support in many different ways, including breaking down information into topics and providing background information for each topic, creating appealing infographics that can enlighten viewers and can also be analyzed. They also curate some information into “Dossiers.”

Navigating Statista’s website should be relatively easy for most young researchers, although there may be some areas of growth for those learners. The home page features a large search box for keywords so obviously, they will know where to start plugging in their search query.   Natural language searching, which seems to be their default setting for most young researchers, however, will not be successful in returning results.  Users new to the product need to be encouraged to change their mode of searching to keyword searching for this product.

Once they come up with a reasonable list of results, there are many tools available for refining the search further from the search results page.  This search results page has two columns, with the right column showing a list of the results and the left column providing ways to refine the search.  The top part of this column lists the keywords used in the search and allows users to remove them easily.  This can also help encourage newer users to move away from natural language searching as they can easily see all of the stop words that they should remove from their query.

Users can also use checkboxes to limit to certain types of information.  These types of information include statistics, forecasts, market analytics, studies, Statista dossiers and reports, topics, and infographics.  Users can also choose to search from a list of sources and can also filter their results by date and region.  Filtering by region can be extremely useful since this is a global database and users are just as likely to find a statistic from Finland as they are the United States.  There is also a function in the results list that allows users to employ a “Location Focus” that prioritizes content for a particular area, such as the United States.

Clicking on a source from the results list brings up the information, which is often presented in graph or chart form.  The result also details not only the source where the information was gathered but also information about the data gathering methods.  Users can export the information in a variety of formats, including a higher resolution png image, pdf, xls spreadsheet, and ppt slide.  The interface can also format the information for printing.  A citation generator is also included as is the user’s ability to use several social media platforms to share certain pieces of information with others.

Like any other online resource company, Statista wants users to find relevant information so there are many suggestion methods that they employ.  The bottom of the left column on the search results page shows other relevant keyword searches and suggested statistics and related information are also present at the bottom of statistics pages.

The “Dossiers” are also quite interesting.  A “Dossier” is an extensive collection of information that is provided in a downloadable PowerPoint (.pptx)  format.  Researchers can use these dossiers as a jumpstart for presenting their own analysis of a topic.  I looked an example of one about “Teen Drug Use in the United States.” It was 93 slides long and presents a wealth of statistical information on the following subtopics: the availability of drugs to adolescents, usage by teens broken down by type of substance and data about treatment and recovery, as well as mortality rates are also included.  A major benefit of these dossiers is that it presents data over several years so that researchers can examine trends.   Some information trended back to 1975.  The PowerPoint itself contained links to Excel spreadsheets that contained more complete information, especially if the chart on the PowerPoint presented an abbreviated version of the information.

I could easily see a health class making great use of this dossier. Particularly, I could envision a full-class project being created around this information with different individuals in the class being responsible for analyzing and sharing certain sections.   From my perspective as a high school librarian, I scanned through the collection of other dossiers in several different subjects to see the ones that might be relevant to study in my school.  These included: food waste, eco-friendly behavior in the United States, recycling, cyber crime, tourism, health insurance, and obesity.  There are likely many more that would suit the young adult researcher but it is important to remember that this is still a source with greater relevance to the world of business and industry so the data will skew strongly in that direction.

The most appealing part of this website is the infographic section.  These infographics are often offered as a part of the free version of their website and they do allow you to embed or permanently link to these images.  At the time of this review, there were several infographics that were trending, including a grim one from July 31st showing the range of North Korea’s possible intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and a lighter one ranking nations based on the percentage of households that have cats as pets. It may be surprising to note that Russia is the number one cat loving country with over 59 percent of Russian households owning a cat.

Statista has potential to fill an interesting niche in a school or public library serving young adults.

Kathleen Meulen Ellison has been a teacher-librarian for over two decades both in New York City and in the Pacific Northwest.  She currently works at Bainbridge High School on Bainbridge Island in Washington and can be reached at kellison@bisd303.org. She was the 2013 recipient of the New York Times/Carnegie Corporation’s “I Love My Librarian” award.  Electronic Eye gives in-depth reviews of online databases and other resources for school and public libraries and reports on trends in the world of information.


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