“Facts are stubborn things, but statistics are pliable.” ― Mark Twain
Statistics help us to understand complex situations and analyse events, but they can also be used to misrepresent and distort our picture of the world. This may be done deliberately, through the selective use of data or misleading language, but it can often be the unintentional result of flawed information gathering and interpretation, leading to unsupported conclusions or oversimplified analysis.
Most of us are not mathematicians and we can struggle to understand the context and meaning of statistics, probabilities and risks. However, there are several useful and reliable guides that can help you take a critical approach to reading statistics and avoid some of the common pitfalls and errors.
Statistics cover methods and procedures for collecting, managing, analysing and consequently presenting quantitative data.
Statistics can be a very important asset when compiling information and supporting your work.
There are several ways in which you may want to utilise statistics and data..Evaluating is an important part of this process.
Full Fact is an independent fact-checking organisation that provides information, advice and tools to help anyone check the evidence for claims made by politicians and the media.
Section 4.2 of the guide is entitled “How to spot spin and inappropriate use of statistics” and suggests three questions to ask when looking at statistics:
The Sense about Science guide aims to provide users of statistics with “a source of questions you can ask and pitfalls to avoid”. It features advice from statisticians, journalists and scientists on how to make sense of statistics and how to identify when statistics are being misused, whether by accident or design. It also has an excellent list of recommended further reading.
Official statistics in the UK are monitored by the UK Statistics Authority, an independent body that is “required to promote and safeguard the quality and comprehensiveness of official statistics, and ensure good practice in relation to official statistics.”