A day in the life

Over the next few weeks I’m planning to include a couple of posts looking at the way Statistics gets used – and often misused – in the media.

First though, I want to emphasise the extent to which Statistics pervades news stories. It’s everywhere. But we’re so accustomed to this fact, we hardly pay attention. So, I chose a day randomly last year – when I first planned this post – and made a note of all the articles that I came across which were based one way or another on Statistics.

In no particular order….

Article 1: An analysis of the ways the economy had been affected to date since the Brexit referendum.

Article 2: A report in your super soaraway Sun about research which shows 40% of the British population don’t hold cutlery correctly. (!)

Article 3: A BBC report about a study into heart defects and regeneration rates in Mexican tetra fish which may offer clues to help reduce heart disease rates in humans.

Article 4: A report showing that children’s school performance may be affected by their exact age on entry.

Article 5: A report into the rates of prescriptions of anti-depressants to children and the possible consequences of this.

Article 6: A survey of the number of teenage gamblers.

Article 7: A report on projections of the numbers of people who could be affected by future insulin shortages.

Article 8: A report on a study that suggests children’s weights are not driven by patterns of parental feeding, but rather the opposite: parents tend to adapt feeding patterns to the natural weight of their children.

Article 9: A comparison of football teams in terms of performance this season relative to last season.

Article 10: Not really about statistics exactly, but a report showing that the UK’s top-paid boss is Denise Coates, the co-founder of Bet365, who has just had a pay-rise of £265. Inludes a nice graphic showing how her salary has risen year-on-year.

Article 11: Report on a study showing failure rates of cars in MOT tests due to excessive emission rates.

Article 12: A report into an increase in the rate of anti-depressant prescriptions following the EU referendum.

Article 13: A report on rates of ice-melt in Antartica that suggest a sub-surface radioactive source.

Article 14: A report suggesting rats are getting bigger and what the implications might be.

Article 15: An explanation of algorithms that can distinguish between human and bot conversations.

Article 16: A report suggesting that global internet growth is slowing.

So that’s 16 articles in the papers I happened to look at on a random day. Pretty sure I could have picked any day and any set of papers and it would have been a similar story.

Now here’s a challenge: choose your own day and scan the papers (even just the online versions) to see how many stories have an underlying statistical content. And if you find something that’s suitable for the blog, please pass it on to me – that would be a great bonus.

When I was a kid I went on a school exchange trip to Germany. For some reason we had a lesson with our German hosts in which we were asked to explain the meaning of the Beatles’ ‘A Day in the Life’….

Embarrassingly, I think I tried to give a  literal word-by-word interpretation. But if I’d known then what I know about Statistics now, I think I could probably have made a better effort.

Here are the lyrics from one of the verses…

Ah I read the news today, oh boy
Four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire
And though the holes were rather small
They had to count them all
Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall

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