Letters:Statistics: unemployment, crime, graphs and independent schools

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The Independent Online
Sir: I was interested to read Rosie Waterhouse's front-page article on the misuse of statistics, and you request for contributions from readers on this subject. My own pet hate is the use of the displaced baseline in statistical graphs. The media, including the Independent, are very fond of this attempt to mislead.

The graph which illustrates Ms Waterhouse's article is a splendid example of this misuse of statistical tools. Instead of the y-axis running from no employment to 3.5 million unemployed, it runs from 1.5 to 3.5 unemployed. To the casual or untrained glance, it would imply that unemployment increased about eight-fold in the period February 1990 to January 1993. The true figure would be well under two-fold.

In today's edition of your paper their are nine graphs. I have no doubt that all are mathematically correct. However, only two show the correct baseline. The rest are designed to look good and to mislead the unwary. Tut, tut.

Yours sincerely, ROY TIPPING Blunham, Bedfordshire 19 December

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