March 4, 2021

The Editor Speaks: Statistics: When figures appear good they must be bad

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Colin WilsonwebWe live in world full of statistics.

Sports writers and commentators, especially in the , are obsessed with them.

Even a blade of grass touching a certain place on a soccer ball and leaving a mark will be recorded. If that green stained ball immediately ends up in the back of the football net it will be mentioned forever more. If another blade of grass touches that same place on another football, even in a different competition, leaving a mark, the commentators will go crazy.

However, when it comes to crime statistics, and we know that crime is on the rise, but the statistics don’t exactly prove that, we make them.

A case in point is our own crime stats that have just been published.

There has only been one murder so far this year compared to 0 during the same period last year but there has been 5 attempted murders compared to 1. So it is reasonable to say we have been lucky. The perpetrators just didn’t do a good job.

Amazingly to me, burglary is down by over 2% but with 13 more attempted burglaries that failed that puts the two figures much closer.

And now for really bad news – theft offences have sky rocketed – over 80% up compared to 2013, one can ask how many of those should really have been placed in the burglary column?

Especially so when the announced the good news first – burglaries are down.

With an overall increase in crime of 27% the 2% down in serious crime doesn’t really hold up.

The excellent statistics are from traffic. Compared to 2013 we drivers have made a dramatic attempt in being careful, especially regarding speeding, using mobile phones and wearing seatbelts.

The traffic department must be overjoyed.

What’s that? We don’t have a traffic department? Why not?

The department was closed so those officers could be reassigned to deal with crime.

But crime has gone up 27% and traffic offences have gone down 34%.

Therefore based on these stats if the crime department was to be closed down and the officers reassigned to traffic department, would we see the crime figures come down? Based on what has gone before, they should.

It’s logical isn’t it?

We, in the media, jumped all over the traffic stats saying they were false – as there was no officers assigned to traffic they didn’t see all the speedsters, the drunks at the wheel of cars, the cell phone users and the non seat belt users.

So even these good stats are bad.

And some bad stats are good.

It has been noted that on the in the USA when there is an ice storm the newscaster will come on and say the has already reported 25 accidents during the day. What he or she doesn’t say is that in the majority of cases the 25 accidents reported compared to a normal day is actually down. The reason is that there are fewer persons on the road, and the ones that are, are being extra cautious and driving slower!

The RCIPS will have a look at their stats and find something to be happy about and if you are unhappy with the RCIPS you can find something to snarl at and when you can’t you can find something to cast doubt on the good.

And you can find that recorded in stats, too.

That’s how we are.

We all have two options when it comes to statistics. We can use them to manipulate numbers to our advantage, or use this knowledge to better understand and use statistics to make accurate and fair arguments. The choice is ours.

The good ones and the bad.



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