Without wanting to engage in BBC bashing it must be said that this morning’s BBC Radio 4 Today programme had too many examples of sloppy use of data. There were school boy errors: focusing on the latest figure not the trend, comparing annual data to quarterly data, getting the number wrong, ignoring the impact of inflation when comparing figures over time, choosing the wrong denominator and flooding the debate with large but ultimately meaningless numbers. I am not a regular listener to the BBC’s flagship news programs but I hope they are generally better than this! Continue reading BBC and sloppy numbers
The gender pay gap is a sensitive, highly topical subject and the deadline is approaching for companies to report their data, often for the first time. It’s a shame then that the BBC article from their “data journalists” setting out to explain what’s happening, “Gender pay gap deadline: What to know“, misses some simple points and does little to help anyone who might be confused. The data is not complicated but there are various aggregate statistics in the public domain which are based on different definitions, and thus need to be used carefully and described clearly. Continue reading The BBC’s unhelpful article on the gender pay gap
The ONS published this week a new – I’d say conceptually more sound – experimental house price index. It is based on the stock of homes not the flow so tells us what’s happening to the whole market not the price of what’s just been sold. The estimate of the average price is lower than under the old methodology – £194,000 compared to £215,000 in the old measure, about 10% lower. The stroke of the methodologist’s pen has made homes more affordable even though no prices have changed! Perhaps this is the time to reflect on the full range of house price estimates at our disposal – and, dare I say it, how meaningless the average numbers are? Depending on what you count and how you add the numbers up, the resulting averages can be wildly different, as much as £100,000 apart. Continue reading The price of a house – a stupid average
The RPI has recently been subjected to a sustained bout of unfair criticism from politicians and commentators. Despite this, the judge in the recent BT pensions case deemed that the RPI had not “become inappropriate” and that BT had no grounds for moving a group of their pensioners to the CPI which gives generally lower upratings. The RPI is, therefore, still fit for purpose. This was a relief to me – I was the expert witness arguing in favour of the RPI – if not a surprise. The full story as to how we got to the situation where so many people (mostly, it must be said, economists and the powerful and self-interested trying to cut their costs) are doing the RPI down is yet to be told. The decision was important for the pensioners as their incomes would not be unjustifiably cut. It was also a good day for common sense, and for the RPI, one of the country’s longest-standing, most trusted and widely-used statistics. The Thales and BT rulings taken together provide food for thought for those who continue to damage the reputation of the RPI without looking beyond the mantras and sloppy headlines. Continue reading RPI: Still fit for purpose
The earnings figures are very important and politically sensitive, yet the trends are highly uncertain and poorly presented by ONS. The poor presentation by the ONS centres on the failure to remove compositional changes and present earnings growth on a like-for-like basis. This has not only led to an overly pessimistic view of what’s happening in the real world but means that political and media attention has been diverted from the real issues in the labour market.
The ONS published a welcome note yesterday updating the progress being made with statistics on the migration patterns of international students coming to the UK. It gave a fairly upbeat impression but really only laid bare how little we as a nation know about these students. New statistics are needed – and requiring all students to get a National Insurance Number would be a good start and might even be part of the post-Brexit changes. Lets hope that the ONS and UKSA Board are in there arguing for such changes. The article also had a graphic that was misleading and below the standards that we might expect from the ONS. Continue reading International student migration – ONS update
The ONS and its governing board, UKSA, does not lie but on migration their statements stretch credibility and do nothing to boost public trust in data. The ONS needs to change its stock press briefing that the passenger survey is “the best available source” for migration data. It is true but only because it does not seek a better source. It’s like telling a cancer patient that an x-ray is best when we know the (more expensive) scan is better – it might help at the margin in some cases but it’s not what’s needed. It is damaging to give such a deeply misleading impression of the data’s veracity. For the same reason, the ONS needs to stop publishing confidence intervals on migration data.
The UKSA needs to say it as it is – migration numbers are not fit for purpose and a new system (and more money) is needed to collect decent numbers. Brexit will require better data so UKSA would no longer be saying anything radical. Pretending that the figures are OK is not only a failure of its regulatory duty but provides cover for a Home Office that really needs to get on with what’s required – the not so tricky job of counting people crossing borders. Continue reading ONS: Time to be frank on migration
Those broadsheets that wanted to “remain” are looking for every scrap of bad news following the Brexit vote. For many stories it seems fair enough, newspapers always have their own take on events. Surely though, it’s a step too far when the reporting of official statistics “facts” falls below a certain threshold of quality, deliberately. Such was some of the reporting of Tuesday’s inflation figures. More reporting of events (and less speculation), a bit of perspective (not focusing on the latest month’s figures) and looking at the detail of the release would be good. Continue reading “Inflation soars” OMG
The recent political coming and goings (the EU referendum, the arrival of a new Prime Minster and Labour’s travails) has seen a period of unusual attitudes to facts. More people seemingly want information and yet the (accurate) use of facts by politicians, some elements of the media and quite a few people has fallen to new lows. Experts are being rubbished, institutions’ reputations are being damaged, and the media is accused of being biased, prompting discussion of a post-truth society. There is much talk of a fractured Britain as technology and globalisation have hastened economic disruption affecting many livelihoods.
This note sets out a few steps – go local, kill the average, be open, do good research, un-spin and tell good stories – that the statistics world might take to help people reconnect with reality and help policy makers understand what might be needed if we are to establish a more sensible approach to debate and policy. It has much in common with the Data Manifesto published by the Royal Statistical Society two years ago. Continue reading Post-truth, post-Brexit statistics
The gender pay gap is one of the most misunderstood areas of British public policy statistics. The only question is the extent to which this is accidental or deliberate obfuscation by pressure groups. The UK Statistics Authority needs to step in to do its part in getting better data, better explaining the existing data it publishes and correcting those who misuse it. It is a shame that the respected IFS has added to the deluge of confusion with its latest report published today.
So far as the statistics are concerned, the pay gap is the average amount of money paid to men in work versus the average paid to women. So far as legislation is concerned, the pay gap is the difference between the pay of an equally qualified and experienced man and woman doing exactly the same job. Sadly the rhetoric swings happily between the two helping no one. Every time this blows up I simply wish for better data so that we can really understand the issue and put ourselves in a position where we can develop policies that will put an end to discrimination. Instead we get (mostly) ill-thought out hot air. Continue reading The scandal of the gender pay gap