Tuesday, April 01, 2008


Damned Lies and Statistics

A recent comment on a post of mine, took me to task when I cited the public's suspicion of official statistics. But I'm not the only one worried: the government have just established-today- the UK Statistics Authority: this body comes into being today, 1st April 2008. It is independent of government, with a brief to oversee all official statistics.

Polls show that a large majority of the public believe official statistics are produced via political interference and an even larger one that the government uses such figures dishonestly. Unlike the Statistics Commission the new authority will have the power to enforce remedial action.

Concern surrounds figures from departments dealing with crime, exam results and health statistics like waiting lists that policy staff-who usually have a week’s notice of new statistics- massage the figures or ‘spin’ the best possible interpretation of them.

Under the new regime they will have only a day for such creativity- still more than best international practice where such a period is three hours or less. On 17th March Lord(David) Lipsey set up a ‘Campaign for Real Statistics’ to complement the work of the new authority. Will the new authority dispel public doubts of government figures? Almost certainly not as politicians will still do their best to bend and distort key indexes to suit their own arguments. But at least this is a big step in the right direction.

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