Lies, damned lies and statistics

‘Selective’ use of statistics on knife crime has got the government into very hot water.

I recommend reading Mark Easton, who has been consistently good at puncturing the bubble of hysteria around issues such as ‘yoof crime’ and knives by using the equally sharp tools of facts and figures. Here’s one example from last week, when the Home Office published its ‘statistics’ apparently demonstrating the resounding success of its knife-crime policy:

“Serious knife crimes against young people (homicide, attempted murder, GBH with intent) fell by 17% between June and October 2008 in the ten TKAP areas,” the Home Office press release proclaims.

Sounds good. But 17% actually equals, er… 17 incidents.

He also points out that the statistics did not come from the UK Statistics Authority, a body established by former Chancellor Gordon Brown to provide reliable statistics for the public:

Instead, the Home Office has rung up police forces and asked them for statistics to illustrate the effectiveness of their “Tackling Knives Action Programme” (TKAP).

Government statisticians tried to persuade the Home Office not to release figures that were selective, unchecked and potentially misleading, and now Sir Michael Scholar, Chair of the UK Statistics Authority has waded in to the fracas, describing the incident as:

“corrosive of public trust in official statistics and incompatible with the high standards which we are all seeking to establish”.

As I say, if you want real information rather than panic and political spin, read Mark Easton’s blog and follow some of his links.


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