Have you got the brain for statistics or more importantly, can you actually read between the lines of statistical reports?
The raw data used to compile reports arguing a particular viewpoint, are often manipulated and/or massaged by the author, to provide ‘evidence’ in support their personal or group agenda. This is nowhere more prevalent than within government and the public sector. But how do you know that data is genuine and that it hasn’t been manipulated? After being spoon fed cleverly compiled and manipulated reports for years in the police service, I have to say I’m probably the eternal sceptic about the validity of many such reports. To evidence that claim I would highlight the following;
- the Government and police service don’t have a good record when it comes to reporting Home Office Crime Statistics.
- several detailed reports at The Thin Blue Line for example; HO Crime Figures – Conspiring to conceive and Force or Farce? – Police recorded crime evidence the above claim.
- Over the years I have read many ‘official’ reports which tell me one thing and then I witness something totally different with my own eyes and ears.
Reading any of the above, you will immediately understand why I (and so many others) sit in total disillusionment and, that’s before you take into account any media related ‘spin’ . ‘Interpretation’ of facts designed to generate a juicy and salacious story. This is the exact methodology that Anna Raccoon commented on recently…
Unrealistic Expectations: If you are the manufacturer of a product – say, for arguments sake, to forecast the weather – and claimed 99% accuracy, then after selling 1,000,000 examples of your product, you would be exceptionally pleased to find that your product had only failed to successfully forecast the weather in 594 cases rather than the expected 1% or 10,000 cases, would you not? (Read more)
Michael Blastland, author of the regular Go Figure column in the BBC News Magazine, explained some of the issues in a recent article entitled Can you count packets of crisps? He went on to explain how “a bit of creative thinking” can help to unmask the windows when looking at number. More often than not, it’s the ‘creative thinking’ process that helps report authors confuse and bamboozle their readership. It is a wonderful skill, well utilised and put to good effect by politicians and senior managers, on a regular basis.
Clever people – and newspapers and politicians – say outrageously daft things often, with them and about them… (Michael Blastland)
When you’re confused by the ‘facts’ don’t be. Have a couple of beers and remember, many of the ‘facts’ are manipulated to confuse you!
- The Tiger That Isn’t: Seeing Through a World of Numbers
- The Numbers Game: The Commonsense Guide to Understanding Numbers in the News, in Politics, and in Life
- Can you count the packets of crisps? (bbc.co.uk)
- Two pints of lager and a packet of crisps (bbc.co.uk)
- Could the days of the British “pint” be numbered? (reuters.com)
- Gov gone wild: Mad new pub glasses, bread freedom introduced (go.theregister.com)