Statistics prove nothing!

Statistics can be manipulated to give the answers we want simply by asking the right questions, says Gayle

IT was some other cynical smart alec who proposed that there are three kinds of untruth: “ lies, damned lies and statistics.”

Over the past week or so, several survey results have been released which reminded me of that saying.

Not that I am suggesting that anyone involved in creating or publicising these studies is a liar. But whatever you are looking to prove, statistical surveys can usually come up with the answer you want. It's just a case of asking the right questions of the right people.

One truly astonishing claim came in the results of a study carried out on children taking a diet supplement containing omega fats. In just three months, they “showed a reading increase of well over a year” and their brain development was said to have advanced by three years. Leaving aside various quibbles over the methodology of the study and interpretation of the results, only four children took part, which makes it rather less than convincing as a prediction of what would happen in the population as a whole.


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Another survey outlined the plight of 'mobile phone refuseniks'. Apparently, a hard core 4 per cent of people in the 25-44 age group STILL don't have mobile phones, despite the fact that there are now more mobile phones than people in the UK.

You might ask why such a limited age range. Well, as one journalist expressed it, the survey proves that it is not only the 'very old, very young or very hard up' who don't have mobiles. So eat your heart out, you old codgers in your mid-forties - you're past it. Who cares if you have a mobile or not?

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But the killer blow comes in the fact that those who don't own a mobile phone are social outcasts.

'If you're not on someone's Sim card, you might as well not exist,' and 'mobile phone users tended to avoid contact with peers who didn't have them.' Maybe I'd better rush out and buy one after all! No, wait - I'm too old to have a social life anyway.

Finally, a survey by the makers of Lloyd Grossman sauces apparently found that most people cook and eat the same favourite meals all the time - as few as four different dishes.

It's hard to imagine that the people who eat such a boring diet really do represent the average food choices of the entire nation.

Presumably, the idea of publicising this factoid is to encourage people to be a bit more adventurous - by adding Lloyd Grossman sauces to their food, perhaps. But anyone who reads this survey would hopefully be motivated to start cooking more interesting fresh food, not involving gloop out of a jar - unless they were among the no-hopers whose four meals a week are already predetermined, in which case a new sauce would be out of the question.

Maybe it's time for a new survey - on whether people take any notice of all these surveys!

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