Today’s big Washington Post trend story looks compelling, at first glance: hospitals are gearing up for a mini-baby boom later this year, after the December and February snowstorms left folks around the area with little to do besides screw (and, of course, brandish police weapons at snowball fights).
Except the story falls apart if you read past the racy (by Post standards) anecdotal lede about a snowbound, horny Laurel couple. While Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring says it’s adding new staff to prepare for expected births that will top their usual monthly rate, four other places—Anne Arundel Medical Center, Georgetown University Hospital, Providence Hospital and the D.C. Developing Families Center—say they don’t expect anything out of the ordinary. The Family Health and Birth Center in Northeast is brandished as an example of the trend—because they’re expecting 35 births in August, up from their usual… 25.
The Post quotes enough statisticians and demographers in the piece to make clear that even the uptick that Holy Cross is planning for isn’t statistically significant. There’s no particular reason to think the increased births in the next few months reflect anything other than the usual variations in the birth rate. It’s tempting, in fact, to look at the story and think they missed a bigger one—one that indicates that expecting parents are choosing to deliver at Holy Cross instead of at other area hospitals.
But the story is burning up on Twitter and Facebook; it’s tailor-made to go viral and give the Post a nice bump in Web traffic that probably is statistically significant, even if the phenomenon they’re writing about isn’t. Any editor would welcome that kind of delivery on a Monday morning in August, when news is slow and readers are flocking to the beach. Maybe by the time the summer’s over, the Post can find a trend that’s actually happening to cover!