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Letter to the Guardian on the use of statistics in politics

30 January 2015

 

Dear Editors,

In Friday’s editorial on the use of statistics in political debate, the Guardian shrugs its shoulders and decides in defeatist fashion that ideology trumps evidence. The reason? A belief that facts have become mere fodder for battering political opponents and baffling the public.

What an insult to the public.  True, there is an arms race in the use of evidence and statistics in political debate. But this is wonderful. The popularity of More or Less, the interest in our annual British Social Attitudes Survey, the Guardian’s datablog and the fact that the newspapers are filled with many more statistics than bare breasts all reflect the reality the public loves understanding our society through the use of stats.  So rather than retreating to praising evidence free ideology, the Guardian should celebrate statistics as a fundamental part of our democracy. 

Even so, a few small things would make a big difference. Civil servants should challenge ministers who cynically misuse statistics. The BBC should promote More or Less to BBC One.  And the Guardian should impartially assess the performance of the Coalition and opposition policies in partnership with respected research providers and academics.

Penny Young

Chief Executive, NatCen Social Research