Thursday, November 14, 2013

Freedom of the City

What would you do if you had the freedom of the city? On Wednesday morning that was the discussion Geoff Twentyman introduced on BBC Radio Bristol's Breakfast show. I pondered it a bit because sometimes, when you go in to do Thought for the Day, they throw the question of the day at you in the pre-thought banter and it is good to have some idea what to say. I am not quite quick-witted enough to have fully grasped the Joe Lemer book of one word put downs - I bow to an expert of the form - but what is the answer?

I wasn't asked and am glad. It is a hard question and the answer really ought to be one that makes life easier for some. Heart for the poor and all that.

But, a day late, here is my idea. I'd employ an official public statistician. No wait. Come back. Hear me out.

Do you ever get annoyed at politicians throwing statistics at each other? One says how good it is that crime is showing a reduction according to the latest figures and the other says how appalling the government's record is on violent crime, which is up.

In fact both are telling the truth. Overall crime is down but one area is not. It is like two people arguing over a cheese. One says it is beautifully white and the other other says no it's not, it's crumbly.

Well it's Wensleydale so it's both.

My official statistician would have three responsibilities:

1. To be the agreed arbiter of statistical slanging matches.
2. To be present at all major public debates involving a need to agree stats.
3. To collate and comment on all stats given prominence on the media.

Every town and city should have one until people had learned to be open rather than selective and maybe a national statistical officer could also be appointed.

Bit dull. But wouldn't half make a lot of people happy. Better than driving your sheep through town or whatever rare and unlikely privilege is usually attached to the honour.


Gongoozler said...

Tim Harford on Radio 4's "More or Less" does an excellent job of looking behind the statistics used by politicians etc. to find out what they really mean. It is suprising how often the opposing statistics used by government and opposition are often both valid!

Steve Tilley said...

Yeah I've come across him. And Ben Goldacre.