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Business Eye: The fact is you can’t trust statistics

Alex Pratt

Alex Pratt

  • by Alex Pratt, chairman of Bucks Business First
 

Is it only me, or do the airwaves seem filled all the time with big numbers and complicated statistics used by different sides of the same argument to shock us into believing the world will come to an end if you don’t support their certain view of any situation?

As there are always two sides to every story and the world has not yet ceased to exist, you have to conclude that there is lot of apocryphal hype about.

I don’t think I’d ever even heard the word ‘billions’ before Gordon Brown became Chancellor, but today not a day goes by now without some billions being risked, spent or earned and talked about.

Perhaps I’m just getting old, but I rather think that the use of statistics has become so abused as to render them, pointless.

The joke about 72.37% of stat being made up seems to have come true.

Last week while listening to Nick Clegg and your man down the pub ‘Nige’ pitching the party of ‘In’ against the party of ‘Out’ in the Europe debate, I felt as though they were punching it out with calculators.

First there was the question of whether Europe accounts for 7% or 70% of our new laws. Then there was a debate about the population of Romania before attention turned to the number of millions of jobs that would be lost were we to leave Europe, and the size of the hoard that might wade ashore at Dover.

Such stats are often quoted from the latest reports commissioned not by scientists with an open hypothesis but by those seeking to prove a partisan point.  

Others then parrot them around as if they were truths and once in the public domain they get thrown around as sacrosanct fact.

So let me give you some facts you can hold onto.

FACT: in 2013 Buckinghamshire built 1,630 houses, more than any core city and 32 of the 33 London Boroughs, behind Tower Hamlets.

FACT: Fewer than 1 in 20 residents in Aylesbury Vale holds no qualification, the very lowest in the land.

It was Benjamin Disraeli, from Bucks, who originally coined the phrase: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.” Perhaps there is a fourth ‘damned statistics’?

The two most prolific professional users of statistics are economists and weathermen, the only two professions where you won’t get fired if you are wrong all of the time.

 

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