Sunday, 16 August 2009

Count me out

Journalists, by and large, don't do maths. Ask them what 40 per cent of 40 is and they won't have a clue. Ask them what the difference is between a median average and a mode average and they'll just look blankfaced. It's only when they come to fill out their expenses that they suddenly become boy geniuses about tax and compound interest. And I count myself as among those who are statistics-blind. However, I hopefully can at least ask questions and spot when some table or graph looks or smells a bit dodgy. So I'm going to start an occasional series of swine flu stats presented by journalists. And here's the first, courtesy of the BBC website...

It purports to show swine flu increases in the last week but (and it may be just me being thick) surely without any figures it's meaningless. If eight people died in China one week and 12 the next, that's a 50 per cent increase - worrying but 'only' four more people. But if 600 died one week and 900 the next, that's still a 50 per increase but now it's 300 who died in one week. So the BBC table tells us almost nothing. Or is it me?

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