Archive for the ‘statistics’ category

Better understanding of numbers needed, stat

Results from a new survey doing the rounds today lament the global public’s political innumeracy. But, far from being wrong at random, citizens from fourteen different countries think the world is a worse place than it actually is. No area of standard media controversy escapes our collective statistical pessimism: from immigration, to teenage pregnancy, to the ageing population, those surveyed are sure there is more, it is worse, and everyone is dying.

Some of these numbers are delightfully crazy if you think about them. For example, the average estimate from the UK general public is that, in a given year, 16% of 15–19 year-olds give birth. So one in six people in a 5-year age bracket give birth annually…so, on average, almost every girl has a baby before she hits 20. Nationally. And around half of people must have guessed more than that. Would you? Really, would you?!

Additionally, Brits think 24% of our population are immigrants, when actually it’s 13%. Check out how ignorant we are! And it seems that ignorance in these cases is not bliss: it’s a combination of fear and misunderstanding of percentages.

Perceptions of immigration: What a mess!

Perceptions of immigration: What a mess! Today’s Daily Mail front page.

So far, so depressing. But wait, there’s more: this litany of public misunderstanding was reported in numerous publications, including…the Daily Mail.

Whilst the Mail stops short of blaming our unskilled estimation on pregnant teenage asylum seekers (who are shown in the sidebar in their beachwear), this editorial decision may nonetheless have registered on your irony meter.

Since the survey somehow didn’t make it into the print edition, let’s instead look at some headlines which did (Daily Mail, 29th October 2014):

  • IMMIGRATION: WHAT A MESS! (Front page, top story. Immigration.)
  • Is UK really doing worse on child poverty than Romania and Bulgaria? (If this were determined by polls, then probably yes.)
  • Britain an El Dorado for migrants (Immigration.)
  • We can’t control borders while we’re in the EU, says minister (Immigration.)
  • No more rescue missions to save migrants in Med boats (Immigration.)
  • Is Qatar the most two-faced nation on Earth? (Foreigners.)
  • A swamped [immigration] system that just can’t cope (Immigration.)
  • The Taliban and Hamas live in luxury in Qatar’s capital city (Foreigners, cont’d.)
  • And the bride wore a hidden camera (Includes pull quote: ‘A passport is like gold dust’. So also immigration.)
  • Former Girl Guide who turned extremist flees to Syria with baby son (This ‘young mum’ was actually 23 or 24 at the time. In fairness to the Mail, however, this story is about emigration.)

Oh God. What kind of country do we live in? Mummy, I know you’re only 14, but please protect me from it all!

Sorry, where were we? Oh yes, that survey of topical pessimism. Clearly people aren’t answering from personal experience, because the average of everyone’s personal experience should give approximately the correct percentage. (This is due to maths.) So could people be guessing based on fear and prejudice? And where might that have arisen?

We don’t know but, as the Mail’s headline writers clearly do know, implication is a powerful tool. We’ll let you draw your own conclusions.

Just as a friendly warning, those conclusions are probably numerically inaccurate.

Written by Statto and Tom

October 29, 2014 at 17:11

Posted in Daily Mail, statistics