How do you use statistics? For illumination or support? Don’t copy Mr Trump!

Who has been misusing statistics now?

I have recently criticised the Foreign Secretary for misusing statistics in relation to Brexit and the NHS.

Now Donald Trump has commented on statistics which  show an increase of around 13% in reported crimes in the UK . He says that this shows an increase in Islamic terrorism around the World. I find this statement quite worrying for several reasons.

  • Politicians do not  usually comment on internal matters in other countries.
  • The figures quoted refer to all crimes, of which terrorism makes up only very small part.
  • For some categories of crime, the police think the increase in reporting is because the public has more confidence that they will act. These include hate crime, sex offences and domestic violence.
  • The UK security services have expressed concern at the increased risk of terrorism, but they are basing this on information they have. It has nothing to do with the crime rate.

The last point would actually support PresidentTrump’s comment, if it had come from the US security services!

JHM Data Protection
You need to see what lies behind the data.
Statistics could help make the USA safer.

A real study of the relevant data shows that Americans are far more likely to die in a robbery, a neighbour dispute or a random shooting than in a terrorist incident. This suggests that gun control would  make the USA safer. It would almost certainly be more effective than immigration controls or most anti-terrorism security measures. I would not, however, suggest anyone should be complacent about terrorism. Anywhere.

I have previously quoted Andrew Lang (1844-1912) writing:

He uses statistics as a drunken man uses a lamppost – for support rather than illumination.

Mr Lang was obviously ahead of his time.

Want to know more about statistics?

To learn more about the use of statistical data, try my book: How to avoid being misled by statistics.  You could find it a help in your business and in your life.

How to avoid being misled by statistics
Book cover: How to avoid being misled by statistics