Bending the facts

10th August 2001 at 01:00
IS it not time to call a halt to the outbreak of news by statistics? Far from providing illumination, their effect is to mislead. Two recent examples of the genre prove the point. The first was a poll by Scotland on Sunday which purported to show that teachers were leaving in their droves despite the 23 per cent pay deal. This turned out to be based on a survey conducted by the newspaper and confined to the four main cities, revealing a 21 per cent increase in "resignations" during the past year.

The year in question was the one ending in March, before teachers had the first instalment of their salary increase in their pay packets. The 21 per cent rise in departures from the profession represented a less dramatic 63 more teachers. We were not even told if these were early retirements, stressed-out staff or perfectly normal farewells.

Another staggering insight was from a poll for last Saturday's Herald which revealed that 48 per cent of those surveyed (no raw figures were supplied) did not believe they could trust this year's exam results. Well, there's a surprise. After months of an unrelenting diet of press reports which told readers that they should not trust the results, we find to our astonishment that the readers say they cannot trust the results. And they call this news.

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