UK Statistics Authority confirms it will not referee arguments based in good statistics

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In correspondence which aims to confirm the extent of its remit Sir Michael Scholar has said that the UK Statistics Authority’s role “is to make sure that public debate is well informed by good statistics, not ourselves to become a player or the referee in the debate”.
 
In addition, he commented that the Authority expects that statements which are less firmly based in good statistics “are likely to be challenged by other parties to the debate, and also by journalists, commentators and others”.
 
Sir Michael’s statements followed two separate complaints which alleged government misuse of statistics on local government funding and school sports statistics.
 
On 23 December 2010 Mayor of Newham Sir Robin Wales had written to Sir Michael (pdf format, opens in new window) about apparent inconsistencies in the presentation of information on local government funding and central government support for local expenditure. Scholar acknowledged  that “that Ministers have made use of these statistics in order to argue their case, and to present their policies as persuasively as possible” (pdf format, opens in new window).
 
But quoting advice from National Statistician Jil Matheson, he said that the statistics themselves were derived from clearly identified data sources and “the methodologies used were published such that it was clear how the calculations had been made”. Sir Michael confirmed that “the Head of Profession for Statistics in DCLG [Department for Communities and Local Government] was consulted both on the methodology and on the presentation of the data before they were published”.
 
The controversy over school sports statistics was the subject of a complaint on 13 December from shadow sports minister Andy Burnham MP (pdf format, opens in new window), and a counter complaint on 15 December from Conservative Andrew Bridgen concerning opposition claims about Labour’s achievements while in office (pdf format, opens in new window).
 
In near identical responses Sir Michael reiterated the same points about the Authority’s role, and said he did not believe that these were occasions “on which the Authority ought to intervene.”
 
On the Straight Statistics website, Nigel Hawkes noted “Sir Michael says that he can’t act as referee in these squabbles. It would be neither appropriate or practical to do so every time statistical or quasi-statistical comments are made in interviews or in Parliament. It’s up to others to keep politicians honest, as best they can.”
 

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