Lies, damned lies…

..and statistics*! In an effort to combat the misuse of statistics by government and journalists a new blog-style website has been established. The site Straight Statistics is a useful tool in explaining best practice, as well as criticising  the poor use of statistics.

As someone who is statistically-challenged, in that it’s an area of mathematics I’ve struggled with all my life, I think there’s great benefit in having simple explanations as to why certain practices are wrong. What has this to do with e-government? Statistics have been and are frequently used to explain why we need e-government, where the digital-divide lies or who uses it and so when. Employing statistics in government service and wishing to engage honestly with citizens, we need to employ statistics correctly.

To emphasise the problem, without meaning to give it a political bias, I can report that another blog has recently been complaining about government misuse of statistics – Left Foot Forward, so this is an appropriate time to mention it. However, the coalitions predecessors were equally guilty of such statistical spin.

So, whilst I hope for improvement, the above constraints are unlikely to be taken seriously by politicians or spin-doctors…

* My friend John Bibby appears to have made efforts in unravelling the origin of the quotation, a debate about which can be found on Wikipedia

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2 Responses to Lies, damned lies…

  1. Adrian Norman says:

    As a 16 year old in 1954, I read How to Lie with Statistics (see below). Since then, I have used statistics due care and been appalled by the lack of numeracy in the media and public administration.

    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    How to Lie with Statistics is a book written by Darrell Huff in 1954 presenting an introduction to statistics for the general reader. Huff was a journalist who wrote many “how to” articles as a freelancer, but was not a statistician.

    The book is a brief, breezy, illustrated volume outlining common errors, both intentional and unintentional, associated with the interpretation of statistics, and how these errors can lead to inaccurate conclusions. It has become one of the best-selling statistics books in history, with over one and a half million copies sold in the English-language edition, even though the monetary examples have become dated because of inflation.[1] It has also been widely translated.

    Themes of the book include “Correlation does not imply causation” and “Using Random Sampling”. It also shows how statistical graphs can be used to distort reality, for example by truncating the bottom of a line or bar chart, so that differences seem larger than they are, or by representing one-dimensional quantities on a pictogram by two- or three-dimensional objects to compare their sizes, so that the reader forgets that the images don’t scale the same way the quantities do.

  2. Removing the production of official statistics from the political process would it was thought restore confidence..But Labour dissipated its reforming zeal instead on a vague code of practice and a powerless if respected watchdog. Government figures continued to be produced by a hotchpotch although the central Office for National Statistics ONS is responsible for most economic and social statistics government departments produce most of their figures in-house. The Statistics and Registration Service Bill expected to have its third reading in the House of Commons on March 13th purports to make official statistics independent.

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