Nicholas Craig column

Stop the statistics. We are drowning in pools of percentages, seas of surveys.

Stop the statistics. We are drowning in pools of percentages, seas of surveys.

Type in any topical issue to Google and you are almost bound to find detailed market research backing up a point of view with seemingly irrefutable mass opinion.

It is becoming a nonsense. I agree with the sentiment expressed by an anonymous, statistics-saturated writer who said: "Too many people use statistics the way a drunk uses a lamp post. For support, and not for illumination."

Statistics can always be called into question. How often do they tell us something we don't already know? Not many.

They are taking the place of common sense, or, more worryingly, the inclination to think for ourselves.

It is far too easy to assume we know what the majority are thinking because of the latest Mori survey results, and even simpler to agree with what look like well-researched facts.

What does this do to individuality? How often do we really think for ourselves now?

The media lap up the latest opinion surveys. News pages are littered with pie charts, graphs and percentages, any or all of which look like cold, hard facts. Yet each is at the whim of the designer who can manipulate the image to suit the headline.

We need to have more confidence in our opinions, honestly assessed after finding out as much as we can about the topic in question. Relying on the latest set of statistics to help make up your mind means you could be reciting nonsense with an air of authority, a technique honed to perfection by many politicians.

Typical urban myths parading as well-researched facts such as "the average person spends seven years in the bathroom, six years eating, five years waiting in queues, five years dressing ourselves and six months sitting at red lights" should have the numbers run through a calculator before putting them to print.

Five years dressing ourselves is two hours a day for a 70-year `average' life: the same length of time the statistics say we wait in queues. That is the whole morning gone, for each of us, in clothing and queuing, every day of our lives. The statistics are simply silly. Forget the factoids, rely on your own experience.

As Vic Reeves said: 88.2% of statistics are made up on the spot.

Nicholas Craig is a partner at Watson Burton law firm.


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