The media coverage of the results of the local elections (in May 2019) has at times been deeply misleading with voting outcomes not being accurately described. The problem is two-fold. First, the usual way of presenting the figures – in terms of seats, percentage share of the vote and swings – can give a very misleading impression. It has on this occasion as the usual metrics have been distorted by the plummeting turnout compared to 2015 (when the turnout was high due to the General Election). No one single summary statistic can be relied upon in all circumstances. Second, it is nigh on impossible to get the actual voting figures. The country deserves a central publication point for election data to allow anyone to do their own, neutral, assessment of the trends. The time has come for the UK to have more transparency about its election results – surely one of the most fundamental of all statistics – as befits a developed democracy. Without this, the voters are unlikely to get a fair sense of the results given much of the interpretation is being done by politicians or columnists skilful enough to select their factoids to suit their own story or others who are innumerate, wilfully or naively ignorant of the facts, or producing projections from black box models.
There was wonderful example of a “statistics meets news” car crash on the radio this morning. Take an interviewer who seems to be uncomfortable with numbers, poorly prepared by the editors/researchers, some statistics that were not published, presented by a lobby group that has not heard of open data or modern publishing standards, and you end up with an amusing but fundamentally totally groundless piece. People deserve better. The story about the demise of the bearded collie was classic #fakenews and was of little consequence but when the same standards of data spinning and innumeracy are applied to something important we all suffer. Continue reading Not the dog’s b*ll*cks!
This is about a bad trend in some questionable data: the official data says that the UK has a huge balance of trade deficit in goods, it’s getting worse and the driving force behind the trend has been the growing deficit with the EU. True? Probably. This trade deterioration needs to be noted, diagnosed, discussed as part of the Brexit negotiations and reversed. Continue reading The UK’s trade deficit in goods
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 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.
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
The BBC and Wikipedia probably beat the official Rio website in terms of the data offering and presentation but it was also a feast for others interested in providing numbers, including the media, or browsing them. Here are some links, plus my summary table of the sequence of medal awards – this was valuable in tracking the rate of GB medals so as not to be blown off course by media during the event that (predictably) swung from gloom to over-hyped optimism. Continue reading Team GB, Olympics and stats