Archives for posts with tag: Statistics

I came across a great website the other day. It was referenced in a BBC article on the best countries to live in. It’s called The Good Country.

Want to know how your country ranks globally across a range of different criteria? Maybe you’re thinking of relocating or going on an extended break somewhere and want to check out your new host nation? The Good Country is just what you need.

The Good Country measures each country’s global contribution along a bunch of general axes:

  • Science & Technology
  • Culture
  • International Peace & Security
  • World Order
  • Planet & Climate
  • Prosperity & Equality
  • Health & Wellbeing

Within each axis it then subdivides into sub-criteria. For example, under Planet & Climate they score you according your performance in these areas:

  • Ecological footprint
  • Environmental agreements compliance
  • Hazardous pesticides exports
  • Renewable energy share
  • Ozone

Each country is ranked on each axis, which rolls up to an overall rank. Spoiler alert – Finland is top.

The Good Country is a fascinating resource if you like those macro indicators and trends.

When it comes to polls, it’s been the year of inaccurate polls. When we finally realised they can be wrong, and actually, a bit of a liability. When they don’t get the simple binary result right – yes or no – then what use are they?

Let’s not forget that polls are statistics, which are rarely accurate if they’re not scrupulously scientific. A poll takes a sample size of the population and projects that sample size onto the population as a whole. All of a sudden, polls become ‘the truth’.

Of course, this is flawed in a number of ways. The sample size is probably not be a reflection of society at large. People may lie or change their mind between when they are polled and when they vote. Polls are run by people of a certain societal group prey to their own prejudices and predispositions. The way the poll is calculated may be wrong. And, perhaps most important when you think of the 2 major instances when the polls got it wrong in 2016, the polls don’t reflect the complexities and intricacies of how votes are counted.

Is this the death knell for polls? Probably not, but it’s a useful reality check, a reminder that statistics can be a guide, but often a faulty guide; misinformed, biased, made up or just plain wrong.

As our US friends might say: polls, schmolls…

Statistical sophistry? What on earth do I mean by statistical sophistry, other than repeating it for improved SEO purposes?

Well, one of the first things we should all learn about statistics is that you can pretty much use them to illustrate any point you like. People use them all the time, because they add a layer of credibility to an argument or case. We’ve all heard the phrase that 48% of all statistics are made up on the spot – feel free to insert your own stat as you read this – but the dangerous thing about statistics is that they can be created, skewed and twisted to serve any purpose. You only have to ask the global political establishment.

Then there’s the sophistry. They used to bandy the term about in Ancient Greece to draw the differences between genuine philosophers and thinkers and the sophists who argued for the sake of things, using trickery, guile and superficial nonsense to dupe their audiences. I originally typed ‘dope’ there my mistake; maybe the typo is more accurate.

The key to interpreting all statistics is to look behind the numbers. What do they really mean? How were they arrived at? What was the sample size? How rigorous was the analysis? How objective was the work, or was it done to justify a preconceived view? Often you can’t answer all these questions, but it still pays to look behind the numbers and peer into the ‘why is information being presented to me in this way?’ abyss.

Just because you use a stat, doesn’t mean it’s true. People who use statistics responsibly and clearly are edifying and educating us. People who use them to distract or obfuscate are not. It’s up to us to keep our wits about us to distinguish the true philosophers from the sophists.