Last summer, from the web-site of the University of York’s Department of Mathematics (of all unlikely places to find any lit.crit), there was an exhaustive history of who and how the cliché originated about “lies, damn lies and statistics”. The conclusion, if somewhat fuzzy, declared the begetter was Sir Charles Dilke, but deriving it from many earlier variants.
Somewhat conveniently, if only for regional pride, was:
A query in Notes and Queries (7th Ser. xii) (1891 Oct. 10), p. 288, reads as follows:
DEGREES OF FALSEHOOD. – Who was it who said, “There are three degrees of falsehood: the first is a fib, the second is a lie, and then come statistics”? ST. SWITHIN
According to Folklore 41 (3) (1930), 301 and 63 (1) (1952), 4–5, “St. Swithin” was a pseudonym used by Mrs Eliza Gutch (1840–1931), of Holgate Lodge, York.
They’re still at it!
The most blackened liar is the politician who twists a statistic to support a point. Here, from the letters page of this week’s Ham&High in front of Malcolm, we have a prime specimen:
Stephen Greenhalgh, London’s deputy mayor for policing and crime, writes:
Crime has fallen, but we want to boost public confidence and make London safer. [etc., etc.]
A Google search suggests Greenhalgh issues, and re-issues press releases on this line, regurgitates similar statements on public occasions, quite indefatigably. There’ll probably be another one along in the morning. That’s why the grateful citizens of London pay him something around £100,000 a year, plus expenses and pension rights.
Meanwhile, Greenhalgh is himself not above suspicion, and Dave Hill has him in his sights:
As the police watchdog considers whether to investigate Boris Johnson’s policing deputy Stephen Greenhalgh over alleged illegal conduct by public officers of Hammersmith and Fulham council when he was its leader, it is instructive to consider the passion with which Greenhalgh supported the ambitious redevelopment scheme at the heart of the affair – the Earls Court project.
And then, lest we forget, there was the City Hall groping:
Boris Johnson‘s deputy mayor for policing has apologised “unreservedly” following an allegation that he molested a female member of staff in a city hall lift.
Stephen Greenhalgh, the former Tory leader of Hammersmith and Fulham council, who now holds day-to-day responsibility in the mayor’s office for policing and crime, allegedly patted a female member of staff on the bottom while in a lift last month.
Last seen above Lenin’s tomb
Put Greenhalgh into an ill-cut Soviet era suit, and one instantly lines him up alongside the Bulganins, Malenkovs and Berias for a Red Square May Day parade:
So, for the occasion, let’s adapt a Stalinite apothegm:
It’s not the crimes that count, it’s how, and by whom they are counted.
In the exact case of crime statistics, the Guardian‘s Datablog, Facts are sacred, ran the slide-rule over the official numbers a while ago. It noted all kinds of jiggery-pokery:
- A concurrent but separate ONS publication shows that the rate of police recorded crime has fallen more quickly than the rate of reported crime found in the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW).
- It’s important to bear in mind that today’s release focuses on police recorded crimes. These are provided to the Home Office by police authorities and forces, not all of whom collect data with the same precision according to a 2007 audit. This is problematic because it means that a higher number in a given area may indicate an improvement in reporting by police rather than a rise in criminality.
- … crimes recorded by police are unlikely to represent the total number of crimes that take place. To understand this better, it’s useful to also consider the CSEW which asks people face-to-face about their experiences of, attitudes about and perceptions of a range of crimes.
- The gap between police-recorded and survey-reported crime has always been significant, but the distance between the two has widened. In 2004/05, there was an effective recording rate of 52.8%, while in the latest statistical release, this figure has dropped to 42.4%
And even this:
- Another of the more interesting figures is that of the perception of crime. The CSEW asks people whether they think crime is getting worse where they live and nationally. So, people think crime is getting worse – but not where they live. It’s the gap between what we know is going on and what we think is going on.
That last one, where Malcolm is sitting, means that the propaganda of stooges like Greenhalgh may be working.
Put the whole shebang together, and the only reasonable conclusion is:
Crime figures aren’t worth the ink used to print them.
Conjugation: I’m usually a law-abiding citizen, you’re a bit dodgy: that bloke ought to go down for a long stretch.
Meanwhile the really big crimes — Harry-the-Horse and the multinationals who don’t pay taxes, the fraudsters who exploit concessions for charity to rip us all off — are officially not crimes at all.
Then there’s the little stuff:
It’s illegal to ride a motorcycle or drive using hand-held phones or similar devices.
The rules are the same if you’re stopped at traffic lights or queuing in traffic.
It’s also illegal to use a hand-held phone or similar device when supervising a learner driver or rider.
Malcolm would give fair odds that at least the second of those requirements is not known to the average driver. Yet — note — all are “illegal”, which means “against the law”. And Malcolm, waiting for a few minutes at bus-stops in north London, counts five, six or more drivers quite blatantly disregarding the law, frequently in full view of that CCTV camera that collect fines if you pause for thirty seconds to allow a passenger to get out (£50 free and for nothing to the local authority).
Here’s a writ that goes unenforced on a daily basis:
Bernard Hogan-Howe [the Met's Commissioner] indicated that he believed the current punishment of three penalty points and a £60 fine was not a strong enough deterrent for drivers.
By increasing the punishment to six points, drivers would be banned from the road if they were caught twice for the offence within three years.
Writing on the Met’s website, the commissioner said this would make drivers take the law on driving while on the phone more seriously and improve road safety.
That interprets as we don’t bother to enforce the law. We expect you, the potential offenders to understand and obey the law. But if we’re forced to apply the law, we expect it to have teeth. If only because it makes us look as though we’re doing our job. And, if the offence was significantly up-graded, we’d have more motivation, and look even better. Oh, and by the way, if you’re phoning and driving, don’t mow down that child, because — if you do — we have to check your phone records, which is a real fag.
That makes all the more remarkable the coincidence, nay the the assiduity of the Met Police, in catching (and so banning) Chris Huhne for driving the Old Kent Road while phoning. And that, by coincidence, within weeks of him avoiding a ban for speeding by having his wife take the points.
Where does this place the Office of National Statistics, Deputy Mayor Greenhalge, and others? —