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Statistical Blunders and Manipulations

David Green, 7 October 2004

Something has gone badly wrong with the Home Office statistical service. Not all that long ago you could place reasonable reliance on official statistics. Today a mixture of bungling and deceit seem to be the rule.
I recently sent an email to the Home Office about the prison statistics asking them to clarify a figure on page 173 (Table 9.10) of Prison Statistics 2002. One row refers to ‘Males aged under 17’ and the next row to ‘Males aged 18-20’. If interpreted literally,this means that the figures for males aged 17 are not included.
I asked the Home Office if the phrase ‘Males aged under 17’ should be ‘Males aged 17 and under’?
They replied a few weeks later by saying that ‘under 17’ means under 17.999 recurring. Here is the exact quotation:
“In response to your recent enquiry regarding the above, the ‘aged under 17’ refers to those aged 17 or under in whole years (so up to 17.999….. years).”
Unless I am sadly mistaken, it would surely be much clearer to say ‘under 18’.
This was probably an example of bungling, but the Home Office is also not above statistical manipulation that can not be put down to error. Take a look at this short report on the Government’s policy targets.

1 comment on “Statistical Blunders and Manipulations”

  1. As a maths teacher with 25yrs experience this does not surprise me. Too many people are think it is OK to admit to being thick at maths. Only recently an ET Chairman admitted at the beginning of proceedings that Maths was not his strong point (feeling secure in his status as a qualified lawyer!).
    Counsel, for the defence, set out to undermine my calculation for outstanding holiday pay (I had WON my case proving that TUPE applied even though my Union, the NUT, refused to support my claim on the grounds that TUPE was far too complex!)
    When I disagreed and informed counsel that I was a maths teacher he quickly re-directed the question to the Chairman who was only to willing to agree!
    As a barrister and expert in Employment Law he knew that DWP states a fraction of a day is rounded up to a full day, yet deliberately set out to defraud me of a days pay by rounding down 30.33 days to 30. Something I and any other Engineer, Mathematician or Scientist would have done automatically especially if ignorant of the law.
    Proving that even the most capable can fall victim due to con-artists due to ignorance – in this case LAW.
    The Barrister cannot claim to be ignorant of this fact (rounding up – which is understandable as a worker who does one seconds work has spent both time And money in order to arrive at work) as he has been called to the Bar having proven his expertise in this field!
    I often use my own experiences in order to encourage students to see the importance of learning and since we all work, we should all take maths far more seriously than we do. This incident however highlights the fact that even experts are at risk if ignorant of the law, if confronted by unscrupulous barristers only to willing to take advantage of others ignorance.
    How many times has he used terms such as Formula, Fractions, Decimals Algebraic Equation and percentages in order to intimidate a witness into agreeing i.e. Chairman – I would not to able to calculate ‘on my toes a mathematical equation with all the above terms quoted verbally – I don’t mind saying so!
    After accusing me of including all public holidays in my calculation, he completely ignored all PH’s in his own calculation. Of which 3 occurred before redundancy, Xmas Day Boxing Day and New years day, therefore denying me a further 3 days. He was neither a qualified accountant, nor qualified in anything remotely to do with Maths/Teacher, yet he had the cheek to challenge a qualified teacher of Mathematics! Or maybe who could not accept my professional status due to my Scouse accent and my obvious unfamiliarity with Tribunal etiquette!
    As a recognised expert in Employment Law he deliberately, and wilfully, set out to defraud me of one days pay. In this instance ‘ignorance cannot be used as a form of defence, if so, then clearly he is not an expert or competent to be called to the Bar!
    Since I have not worked since winning my case, over 2 years, the amount he tried to deny me is now equal to a weeks benefit!
    Dissatisfied with the ET, the remedy hearing, and the days pay which is still outstanding and had been included in the judgement, is still outstanding I therefore intend to take my case to the civil court representing myself again if needs be!

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