Lies, damned lies and favourite stats

By Pallab Ghosh
Science correspondent, BBC News


There are lies, damned lies and statistics, the saying goes.

Whatever the issue, whether it's Brexit, football or health tips, numbers can be plucked to suit each side of the argument.

But while it's easy to lie with figures, it is even easier to lie without them.

With statistics, once somebody puts a number in front of you, you can pick holes in it and really analyse whether it stands up or falls apart.

To celebrate the power of numbers to shine a light on fake news and bogus claims, the Royal Statistical Society runs a competition for the best statistic of the year.

They want people to send in the stat that captures the zeitgeist of 2018, or in some way reveals something surprising or powerful - a hitherto unseen truth.

Entries need to be submitted by November 25. To get your ideas going, here are some examples.

The UK's overall happiness has increased from 7.29 in 2011 to 7.52 in 2017. The UK has been ranked 19th in the world for happiness over the last two years. That's up from 23rd in 2016.

Seven people per year, on average, die from attacks by British cows. In comparison, on average, six people are killed in shark attacks per year globally. Yet it is sharks, rather than cows, that are feared and often demonised in popular culture.

Producers for the ITV2 show Love Island announced that more than 85,000 people applied to be on this year's Majorca-based popular reality show. This figure is 3.6 times bigger than the 23,521 UK-based students who applied to study at the universities of Oxford or Cambridge last year.

The percentage of the United Kingdom land area that is densely built upon. Some people might be surprised at just how little of the UK has been "concreted over".

And finally...

The number of pregnancies per 1,000 women aged between 15 and 17 is at its lowest rate recorded since comparable statistics were first produced in 1969.

The numbers of young people drinking and smoking regularly have also similarly decreased.

Entry forms are available at this link.

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