How to lie with statistics #13814

Another great example of how to lie with statistics went by on the BBC Open Secrets blog this morning.

By law government authorities must reply to all Freedom of Information requests “promptly and in any event not later than the twentieth working day following the date of receipt”. Unfortunately many of them ignore the first half of this, and take it to mean that they can routinely take the full twenty working days to respond (I don’t have actual figures, but I suspect that graphing the responsese on would show a disproportionately high percentage responding on the twentieth day).

The statement from the Home Office spokesman goes even further than this, though:

The Home Office is committed to responding to FOI requests within the timescales set by the Act but the complexity of our cases means that this will not always be possible. We have therefore set an internal target of 90 per cent which is achievable and challenging.

The arrogance here is breathtaking. In order to set targets that they believe they can achieve, they ignore the legal requirement, and set themselves a goal that involves breaking the law 10% of the time!

They then go on to boast about how much better they are now than a few years when they broke the law more than half the time. No doubt, if they manage to meet these new targets, at the end of the year there can be much rejoicing that “all targets have been met or surpassed”, and the small matter of the target being a completely ludicrous one in the first place can be quickly glossed over.

One thought on “How to lie with statistics #13814

  1. I’m becoming very familiar with this attitude within and without the halls of the British Systemâ„¢. It seems to come from prescriptive or detail based legislation rather than descriptive or goal oriented regulation. The result being that everyone tries to come up with ways to game the system to get “close enough” to being within the letter of the law while at the same time utterly missing the real point.

    Where everyone means both the controllers and users of the system.

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