Monday, August 10, 2009

Lies, Damned Lies And A 100 Franc Note

It was the British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli who is reputed to have said "there are lies, damned lies and statistics" Statisticians, I believe, loath this little maxim, believing that it should state "there are lies, damned lies, and the misinterpretation of statistics" I have to confess that I have a good deal of sympathy for the statisticians point of view, especially after I have just listened to one of my favourite radio programmes "More Or Less". The programme is a kind of mathematical CSI which sets out to investigate the truth behind what is all too often the misinterpretation of statistics by the media, politicians, and the general public. It has just returned to BBC Radio 4 for a summer series and kicked off with an analysis of a YouTube video which is doing the rounds called "Muslim Demographics". This particularly nasty video is packed full of alarming claims such as most European countries will become Islamic states during the next few decades due to the falling birthrate of the indigenous population (by which they probably mean white Christians) and the astounding fertility of Muslim immigrants. What the radio programme does, with the type of dignified impartiality only the BBC can achieve, is cut through claim after alarmist claim showing that the thesis of the original video has the statistical significance of a spent mothball. Hopefully I will manage to embed the BBC YouTube video. If you want the original YouTube video you will have to find it yourself.
When not listening to the radio I have been trying to sort out the mess in my room. Whilst re-stacking some files on a shelf I came across one of my old banknote albums and, once again, was struck by the beauty of old banknotes. As we go down to the supermarket and hand over our bit of plastic we have lost for ever the joy of handling what, in many cases, were small works of art. The example below is from my collection and is a French 100 Franc note dating from 1938. Now imagine handing that beauty over when you were paying for you loaf of bread and packet of Jammy Dodgers.


  1. i spent the last two years of college working as a statistician for the school...i would agree they can be sliced and diced to "create" a finding. a lot of it has to do with how the question is asked or how the data is gathered...there is so much room for bias.

    lovely bank note....too cool.

  2. This vintage Frac note is a work of art, Alan. European money is always so much more lovely than ours. Sigh.

    The ubiquitous alarmist claims have to be taken with a grain of salt, don't they? I rarely watch the news on TV.

  3. Ah, statistics... the most widely interpreted form of information. Next to religion and politics, of course.

  4. Anonymous4:54 PM

    "statistical significance of a spent mothball"-this sounds so spot on, Alan. It's still media hype( which I no longer give in to )compounded with too little data and not enough research. I digress...

    As to the French note here, wonderful! To think I gave away all my old foreign currency to the little ones( but none as nice as this, I assure you )!

  5. You make some good points about the statistics. It's always better to not believe everything you read, I guess.

    The money is lovely. I like the variation of colors that we don't have in our green money! :)

  6. I'm with Willow on the TV news-- in the States at least its such an unreliable source & so much driven by ratings & entertainment value (& alarmism sadly fits with that).

    The franc is really eye-catching.

  7. It's so annoying that particularly tabloid press and sensational television take up the wrong statistics or worse, make up the wrong statistics. There's enough xenophobia around already. We have the same rubbish propagated here and yet the population is well and truly, white, anglo and Christian. Minorities are sadly tarred with an erroneous brush and are exactly that . . minorities. What REALLY upsets me is that this sort of idiotic interpretation of the so called facts is believed by the majority of the population. Nicely pointed out Alan.

  8. As always, thanks for all the comments. Sorry it was such a mixed blog but as willow pointed out in her post today, I am sure we all find ourselves thinking "can I blog this" at certain points during the day. I had two such moments yesterday and joined them together rather than putting them in separate postings.

  9. I hesitate to even say anything about your blog. Our country has been lied to, lies are being corrected by lies, and now the statistics are not even reality but politically created to cover so many truths that we are not suppose to know about. Our press has become a partisan part of the problem. I watch your BBC news at night on PBS to actually hear news about the world as we don't have news anymore. We have agenda to promote, not news to give. Who needs statistics true or false when we are sleeping with the enemy.


Black Friar

For a time, during the late 1970s, I had a job leading parties of foreign visitors on tours of historic London pubs. One of my favourite sto...