Making statistics suit the argument

“Lies, damned lies and statistics” was a phrase popularised by American author Mark Twain more than 100 years ago, but it is still worth considering today.

The TD postcode has been named as having one of the highest concentrations of registered sex offenders by a national newspaper, which voiced fears that rural towns such as Galashiels and Hawick were becoming dumping grounds for these types of criminals.

Yet, as Galashiels Community Council chairman Bill White enquired, we don’t know how many of those on the list are deemed a serious danger to the public, or how many have been “dumped” here from other regions. As Mr White suggests, the figures provide more questions than answers.

A similar statistical dispute is raging in Selkirk where supporters of a community wind farm have added up all those who voted “yes” to any of three possible sites and concluded that 63 per cent are in favour of at least one option. Opponents also claim victory, citing the number who voted “no” for each option as outnumbering those who chose the affirmative, thus claiming a near 60 per cent rejection. Confused? We’re not surprised.

Sometimes, however, statistics send an unequivocal message.

So, whether or not SBC officers are right in reporting that stress accounts for 23 per cent of sickness absences or, as an ex-employee claims on page one, the true figure is nearer 50 per cent, it is still too high and represents a major challenge for our soon-to-be-elected representatives at Newtown.