Statistics, statistics

They have all come under fire for helping promote \”throw-away fashion\”. Because of their very low prices, many consumers are happy to throw away their garments after just one season. MPs on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee found the proportion of textile waste at council tips has risen from 7 per cent to 30 per cent over the last five years.

\”As a proportion\”, well yes. And the amount of rubbish in total is falling, because we\’re recycling more. So it could be true that we\’re throwing away more clothing, but it necessarily so: it could be that as we\’re throwing away less glass, paper and so on the portion of clothing in what we do throw away is rising.

From the figures we\’re given we cannot prove it either way.

3 comments on “Statistics, statistics

  1. Well said Tim. It’s a very common problem: the quoting of the relative without the absolute.

    Of course, given that the right statistics do usually tell the truth, how else can opposing politicians each support their partisan cases?

    I’ve always been a great admirer of Professor John Brignell and his Numberwatch website, which you too, of course, know about; but a reminder for the readership is no bad thing.

    There he gives us the data dredge, in which scientists search one set of data for just about any possible ‘trend’, ignoring that some such ‘trends’ will occur by chance, if one looks hard enough. Thus a higher threshold should be set, for statistical relevance, when doing such a wide-scale investigation dredge.

    There is an equivalent ‘mistake’ by politicians. If you search hard enough for a narrow enough statistic in a perfectly decent overall analysis, you stand a good chance of finding one to support any side of the debate: cherry-picking.

    Best regards

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