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
Pretty much everyone thinks it’s a good idea to have more economists (code for analytical capability) at the ONS but opinion divides when there’s discussion as to what they should be doing. There is a need to have people who can acquire and probe exiting data assets to make them sweat in the spirit of the Bean Review. In contrast, there is no need for the ONS to have any more descriptive writing and (sometimes dumbed-down) publications that serve some unspecified need. That would be a wasted opportunity. There is a risk that the hiring of large numbers of economists in a hurry, mostly in their early careers, as opposed to curious souls with experience, will lead the ONS down the wrong path. Meanwhile economists outside government need to start making the case for better statistics. Continue reading Economists at the ONS
A new ONS website was launched in February. I was delighted that its predecessor (launched in 2011, which brought many apologies from the ONS and was the subject of ridicule, as in this article by Tim Harford) was dispatched in its entirety and I welcomed the new one. It looked much nicer. Sadly, a couple of months on after increasing frustration, I now have to record that, in my humble opinion, it’s different but no better than its predecessor. This site, unlike its predecessor, is redeemable but it needs work on it, and now.
The relationship between open data and journalism is a complex one. No one questions the desirability of good journalism and the value of open data but both are under threat. British print circulation is falling, and for many titles by over 10% in a year and traditional revenue streams are under pressure. At the same time the momentum behind the British government’s open data movement shows signs of weakening as its impact is being questioned. They could help each other out. Harder stories based on real evidence (including open data) could make a contribution in halting the decline in journalism and open data. Sadly, in the UK, this seems unlikely to happen. If the private sector won’t seize the opportunity we should look to public sector broadcasting to set standards in quality and exciting journalism. Continue reading Open data and journalism
The rain was pouring down outside so Bank Holiday Monday was a good time to read the blog from Met Office Chief Scientist Professor Dame Julia Slingo OBE FRS in which she reflects on this summer’s weather. The title – “So what happened to our summer?” – gives away the sense of mild embarrassment about the poor predictions for July and August. The Met Office has lost the confidence of the BBC which has terminated the weather presenting contract. (This Met Office blog covers that and criticism of its apps.) Beyond the accuracy of its forecasting, I see evidence that the Met Office has confused governance, is not being very open with its data, not focusing on the public’s needs and opinions, setting itself lower targets for forecasting accuracy, and is becoming less transparent in its operations. Perhaps it’s no surprise that the organisation is being reviewed by Government, not least as they were given the go-ahead last year to spend £100m on a new computer. Continue reading Met Office – best in the world?
The media will – as I just have – use dubious statistics to attract readers. My only hope that people realise that such stories are for entertainment not news and, usually, not something upon which to base decisions. I fear along the way that the reputation of data is damaged in the process, which is a shame as it can be of immense value at times. Continue reading Prime Ministers born on a Saturday
According to the Evening Standard today, the Bank of England’s growth forecast has been slashed and the inflation forecast is little changed. The former has been cut by 0.3 percentage points in 2016 and the latter by 0.4 points. Umm. Surely if 0.3 is slashed, 0.4 can’t be little changed. Continue reading “slashed” = “little changed”