Pointless Comparisons


Fake news is not difficult to spot. Most of the links that present it in the first place lead you to a site that looks like it’s been put together by dyslexic sixth-formers. Even if a story seems credible, it doesn’t take long to do a Google News Search or cross-reference it against a reliable news gathering source.

Distinguishing between what is real and what is fake should be no problem for intelligent human beings. Which is why when most people get spam mail promising them a million pounds or emails from Mr Khan in Timbuktu asking you to receive his fortune they bin them in a heartbeat.

What are far more corrosive at the moment are the tables of statistics which journalists and political agitants use to make their point – in particular, tables which use utterly pointless comparisons. As well as attempting to defraud those to whom they are disseminated, such tables are an insult to those who claim to harbour any intelligence at all.

Take the example of Iceland. A country with a population of 323,000. That is the same size population as Wakefield. Iceland, by any comparison (apart, obviously, from football), is not even a country. It’s somewhere between a town and a city. Yet there it is in national league tables and people use Iceland as an example of a country outside the EU with fabulous growth rates. “Let’s use their economic arrangements with the EU,” numbskulls proclaim. How do they get fooled? Because big organisations – trusted groups like Bloomberg – refer to Iceland’s growth stats and other stats as national statistics:


So along comes some Scots Nat wise guy like James MacEachern to use Iceland’s stats in an argument against a United Kingdom.


Does Aamna Khan Bangash realise that for Iceland’s scientific research growth to increase by 42% all it takes is for the Siggurdson family to win a microscope in a Reader’s Digest Competition?


There are plenty of other examples of pointless comparisons out there. Just replace Iceland for Hong Kong, Singapore, Malta or Liechtenstein. Norway is another favourite when it comes to researching the UK’s possible relationships with the EU even though Norway has a huge state pension fund based on oil revenues, a population smaller than London and an economy replete with fish.

The pointless comparison that really gets on my nerves though is the infographic. If it’s an image that displays and explains information quickly and clearly, it’s an infographic. They are head-craning, eye-squinting, eyebrow-raising nightmares that leave you more confused than before you clicked ‘next’. The result is an exciting gallery of infographics that tell you nothing.

I mean, what does this tell you?


Nothing at all.

It’s on Twitter where you’ll find political activists who devote much of their timeline to supplying graphs and infographics based on data that they have bent like a Gueller spoon. Utterly pointless drivel can be found in the timeline of Labour-supporting Dr Eoin Clarke who was exposed as a “photoshop nutter and library assistant at a third rate university”.


And the Scottish Nats are others who enjoy a bit of statistical manipulation too:


What would we do without Andrew Neil to point out that this chart was drivel too?


Mark Twain was right:

There are lies, damned lies and statistics.

Wake up, sheeple.

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