Poor stats use affecting policies

Poor stats use affecting policies

Key policy decisions made by government and public agencies are being put at risk by poor use of statistics.

That claim was made by Dr. Nick Fisher, President of the Statistical Society of Australia (SSAI), at the launch of a national campaign to improve Australia's use of statistics.

"We live in a world awash with numbers. They underpin far-reaching decisions being made by governments about our health, our safety and security, our social and economic progress, our environment, our jobs and our daily lives. Unfortunately, many of the people who collect, analyse and interpret these numbers are not trained or qualified to do so. Resulting decisions can be fatally flawed, and may adversely affect millions of people," he said.

Dr Fisher added that the misuse of statistics is widespread and is affecting millions of people.

"You probably wouldn't trust your life to an untrained doctor or an untrained engineer, or your teeth to an untrained dentist. You probably wouldn't trust your money to an unqualified accountant. Yet every day Australians rely on policies affecting their health, prosperity and security that are founded on unprofessional use of statistics.

"Statistics is a complex and delicate field requiring both high level training and experience, he said.  An aptitude for figures, or the ability to turn on a computer, just isn't enough."

Speaking on behalf of the SSAI, Dr Fisher urged government departments and agencies responsible for major policy issues to employ a professionally accredited statistician to oversee the collection, analysis and interpretation of data that underpin any major policy decision.

"Every day data are being collected and processed by people who may be well qualified in their own fields, yet do not have any statistical training or background. These include managers, public servants, doctors, engineers, economists, journalists, politicians, sociologists and others involved in the process of making policy. If Australia wants sound policy decisions about our future, we need to be certain they are anchored on a solid quantitative base.

"Like medicine, chemistry and other disciplines, Statistics is a science - the science of managing uncertainty.  It requires equivalent professional skills to be assured of a trustworthy outcome."

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