A review of Bad Data Georgina Strurge, 288 Pages, The Bridge Street Press (November 20,22).
H.G. Wells once predicted that “statistical thinking will one day be as necessary for efficient citizenship as the ability to read and write.” It was a slight exaggeration, but in an age of big data in which governments pride themselves on being “evidence-based” and “guided by the science,” an understanding of where facts and figures come from is important if you want to think clearly.
Georgina Sturge works at the House of Commons Library, where she supplies statistics for UK MPs. If Bad Data If this is any guide, she also gives them caveats and other words warning, which they ignore. This book is informative, well-written, and non-political. It provides a number of examples that show statistics can be misleading. Some statistics may be manipulated for political purposes. Others are inherent errors. Some are just guesswork. Even vital variables like Gross National Income or life expectancy are more uncertain than you might think. We don’t really know how many people live in Britain legally, let alone illegally. Depending on where you live, the number of people living in poverty can vary greatly.