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Statistical Codology Tim Harford, in his column last Saturday in the Financial Times, laments the innumeracy which pervades the popular press and much of the political debate.
There are people unable to remember the difference between a million and a billion constantly pontificating on weighty economic issues of all descriptions in both print and broadcast media.
My favourite category of statistical codology is the university ranking tables now produced in profusion by various self-appointed scorekeepers, notably the Times Higher Education Supplement which ought to know better. The Irish newspapers reported last week the sad news that Trinity College Dublin had fallen from th best university in the whole wide world to a mere th according to this venerable source.
It has fallen behind the University of York, the shame of it, and has managed to stay just an inch ahead of the University of Oslo phew! This vital info can be gleaned from footballdatabase.
There is a simple reason. Football fans know that these rankings mean nothing whatsoever. If anyone really needed to know whether Cork or Rijeka boasts the better team, say if they were drawn against one another in some competition, the matter takes ninety minutes to resolve.
How though do you check if Trinity or Oslo has the better university? A ninety-minute showdown between the staff of the two institutions would be quite a spectacle but could turn ugly.
The attraction of the university rankings for journalists is precisely that they are meaningless and accordingly incontrovertible.
Which does not mean that Oxford is a poor university. It just means that the concept of university league tables is for the birds. Football league tables based on the results of actual matches between the teams in each league are at the upper end of respectable scientific practice by comparison.
It looks like Dundalk will relieve Cork of their title as the season draws to a close. But since each team will have played 36 games against the rest this really does suggest that Dundalk have the best team.
However daft the concept and dodgy the statistical methodology, the university tables have their uses. The recent declines in the rankings for the Irish colleges have fuelled demands from their presidents for extra taxpayer cash. A few years back the same tables were showing an advance up the rankings, proof positive, according to the same people, that public spending on universities was delivering the goods and should be increased.
Brexit provides another example of the innumeracy which annoys Tim Harford. This number, not to be confused with the once-off exit bill, has been ventilated by Brexiteers as, quite properly, a potential ongoing benefit to the Treasury of a full exit.The adoption of a circular economy offers considerable economic benefits; Defra calculates that UK businesses could benefit by up to £23 billion per year through low cost or no cost improvements in the efficient use of resources, whilst McKinsey estimates that the global value of resource efficiency could eventually reach $ trillion per year.
The British economy is failing to deliver stronger growth in workers’ pay, as the mounting risk of a no-deal Brexit turns up the pressure on household finances, according to a Guardian analysis. According to this SWOT analysis of the UK, the country seems to be in a fairly good, however still suboptimal economic position right now.
I have just published a short history of Brexit.. In the latter chapters, dealing with the Single Market, Brexit, and the subsequent negotiations, a lot of the (mainly official) sources used are .
Add this topic to your myFT Digest for news straight to your inbox. United Kingdom - Economic forecast summary (May ) READ full country note (PDF) Economic growth is projected to remain modest at % in and % in , owing to high uncertainties about the outcome of Brexit negotiations.