Best posts of the term

We had many great submissions to the blog over the course of this term, on a wide variety of topics. Now that the course is over, I thought I would highlight some of the best contributions we received.

So here, in no particular order, are my top three posts for the term:

‘Record hate crimes’ after EU referendum – a great post highlighting problems with a BBC report showing an apparent spike in hate crimes after the Brexit referendum result

Mixed new drug with statins can reduce risk of heart attack – a very detailed look at some big claims made for a new heart drug

Soaring property prices trigger record 14,000 challenges to wills in a year as a rise in divorces and remarriage leads to disputes between ‘modern families’ – an excellent critique of some shaky claims made in the Daily Mail

These posts all showed a great critical approach to statistics in the media, so a big well done to the authors!

(Most students submitted their blogs anonymously so I haven’t named the authors here, but you know who you are. Great work).

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Blog Post: Term-time holidays: Where most children were absent

Term-time holidays: Where most children were absent

This article states that term time holidays ‘accounted for a quarter of unauthorised absences from schools in England, analysis of official figures shows.’ This is not true. Looking at the figures from the ‘National Statistics – Pupil absence in schools in England: 2015 to 2016’, it is shown that the percentage of unauthorised absences due to un-agreed family holidays in the year of 2015/16 was 0.5%, making it a fifth not a quarter.

The article then goes onto state that, ‘Torbay, Bournemouth, Poole, Cornwall and Devon are among the 10 areas with the highest percentage rise in holiday absence’. This information was correct. I checked this using the figures given by the department of education.

Further the article claims that, ‘term-time holidays accounted for an average of 27% of all missed “sessions” of school’, when this figure was far lower with family holidays only accounting for 8.2% of absences in 2015/16. I assessed this by comparing the data from the department of education.

The article highlights that, ‘the Department for Education insisted overall absence remained at “historic lows” and that persistent absence had fallen by more than a third since 2010-11’, though this is incorrect, as the overall absence rate has remained consistent at 4.6% and therefore there have not been historic lows

The link to this article is:


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Student Blog: THE SUN today calls on readers to help end the benefits frauds that cost the country a record £1.2BILLION last year.

It can be argued that the statistics used within this headline are misleading and exaggerate the true extent benefit fraud is committed in Britain. For example, by looking at the annual figures for ‘overpayment’ of benefits in 2012/13 on the GOV website, it can be highlighted, that the overall percentage of total benefits expenditure that are overpaid accounts to 2%. Moreover, this has stayed at a similar measure since 2004/5. Thus, it can be highlighted that using solely numerical data that is not in comparison or compared to how much is spent within the government on welfare is inappropriate. This is because, it allows people to assume this is considerably higher than what it is. Similarly, The Sun have not defined what ‘fraud’ is, for example on the government website, the statistics also include money that is accidentally overpaid to people, opposed to people intentionally committing benefit fraud. Thus, overall it can be emphasised that the headline is misleading.

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Student Blog: Generation hopeless! How millions of young adults struggle with simple tasks like changing a lightbulb or boiling an egg!

Generation hopeless! How millions of young adults struggle with simple tasks like changing a lightbulb or boiling an egg!
The story behind this headline argues that millions of young adults are struggling with simple tasks such as boiling an egg. The story goes on to further argue that Almost half of adults under 35 say they do not know how to cook a meal without using a recipe. The method that was used to gain this data was a survey conducted by insurance company Aviva. When exploring Aviva’s methods, I found that the research was commissioned by Aviva and carried out by Censuswide research in February / March 2017 and the use of other data was used from 2004 where adults from across the UK were interviewed about their habits and roles around the home.  I can understand further that Censuswide has a panel of 69,000 UK members who access the surveys online, this therefore means that the sample of the participants who have answered this survey is limited due to only those who have internet access completing the survey. Although 69,000 it doesn’t state in the article how many people took part in the survey therefore how can we generalize this to all young adults because nothing states how many people took part, therefore this state unrepresentative data. Therefore, this story and headline have been overexaggerated as it states that ‘millions of young adult’s struggles, when we can clearly see that this data could had been possibly made up because there has been no evidence found to who this survey was actually asked to. Also, this some people may take the headline seriously, and argue that this generation is hopeless when really those who answered the survey said that they had never been shown how to do these tasks by their parents, which makes this misleading as who is to be blamed.


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Student Blog: ‘’More than half of Muslims in UK think that homosexuality should be illegal and that teachers shouldn’t be gay’’


When reading this headline for the first time, there is an instant sense that it is unlikely to be true. The headline is claiming that half of all Muslims in the UK believe homosexuality should be illegal and teachers shouldn’t be gay. However when reading further into the article it is clear that the sample collected is not representative of the whole Muslim community due to the fact that they only surveyed 1,000 people. This is a very small survey that can’t be used to generalise a whole group of people. The Muslim population within the UK in 2011 stood at 2.7 million and therefore the 1,000 people surveyed do not represent enough of the Muslim population (ONS, 2011). The headline also claims that more than half of those surveyed believe teachers should not be gay, this is exaggerated slightly due to 47% believing this and not over 50%. Finally, due to the fact that the data is also being gathered for a TV show entitled ‘‘What British Muslims really think’’, the information that is collected is going to more than likely be from more extreme viewpoints as that is what the show’s producers are most probably looking for.

In conclusion this headline tries to portray that over 50% of all Muslims within the UK believe that homosexuality should be illegal and that teachers shouldn’t be gay. However this is not true to all Muslims due to the small sample size that was used to produce these statistics and this headline. A more appropriate headline would be ‘’More than half of 1000 UK Muslims that were surveyed believe homosexuality should be illegal and just under half believe teachers should not be gay’’. With this new headline it does not make out that all Muslims in the UK agree with these statements.


ONS, 2011. How religion has changed in England and Wales [Online] Available at: [Accessed 4 April 2017]

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Student Blog: “One in four people have been diagnosed with a mental illness”

This article from the website ‘Wired’ explains that one in four adults suffer from and are diagnosed with mental illness in England. This conditioned behaviours surveyed include; anxiety, phobias, eating disorders, depressing, alcohol dependency etc. The study fails to add a single time period to the statistical claim to explain if the diagnosis was given in a month, year or during their whole lifetime. This therefore means that the findings can be misinterpreted for one in four people being diagnosed with mental illness over a life time.

This article used statistics from a survey which was conducted by National Centre of Social Research which had found similar results to Health Survey for England 2014. The survey asked 5000 adults about their experience about mental health where they were asked about their mental illness diagnosis and if it has fit into one or more of the 17 different diagnoses options. This approach of quantifying mental illness to categories has limitation as certain illness are just labelled with an umbrella term which narrows the diagnosis. Additionally those surveyed may not always see their diagnoses fitting into one category and may believe that they fit into two or more different types of mental health disorder. This can therefore produce incorrect and invalid statistics. An example of this is depression where there are many different forms of depression and each respondent may interpret this diagnoses different compared to another.

The sample size can be seen as representative to the wider population however few of the respondent who were diagnosed with a mental illness was self-diagnosed (18%). This survey therefore relies on the individual’s perception and personal judgement of mental illness symptoms rather than a profession/ expert opinion. Respondents who were self-diagnosed and diagnosed by experts also were required to use their memories to answer questions which can make the findings inaccurate leading to an unreliable statistical claim.

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Student Blog: the average Brit spends £40K on fashion in a lifetime

This article in the Daily Star stated that the average British person spends £40,000 on fashion in a lifetime. The survey had a good sample size of 2000 respondents making it representative of the British population. Yet, this research was carried out by, which offers discounts in a range of clothes shops, both online and in high street stores. Therefore, the outcome of this research would likely work in favor of, as it would make consumers consider ways to decrease the amount they spend on clothes, thus increasing the popularity of their website. Furthermore, another study by found that online voucher codes drive higher spending. Therefore, the sample taken from the website’s customers is not likely to be very representative, as they are spending more than the average British person on clothes. It was found that the average voucher code user spent 71% more online than those who do not use them. Overall, although a good sample size was taken, it is not likely to representative as they are customers of the website, who are likely to be spending more money on fashion. In addition, this research works in favor of, as the outcome would encourage more people to use their website.

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Student Blog: Mixed new drug with statins can reduce risk of heart attack

by Jock Rayment

This article found on the Times website, outlines how the combination of statins, a well-known treatment taken by an estimated 6 million Brits, along with a new “breakthrough” drug named Evolocumab can supposedly reduce the risk of heart attack. The opening paragraph begins by stating the claims from a trial that “people could cut the risk of a heart attack or stroke by a fifth with cholesterol lowering drugs”. This is potentially misleading as readers may assume this is in reference to the newly approved Evolocumab, when in fact it is most likely referring to a cocktail of several different drugs. Additionally, since we are given no further details of this “trial” such as the sample size or even who conducted the pharmaceutical trial, we must take care in how much weight we place on these statistics.

The second set of statistics the article includes is that “levels of “bad” cholesterol fell by 59%” in patients taking the statin-Evolocumab combination. However, it is well known that an individual’s levels of “good” cholesterol are equally, if not more, important in indicating the risk of cardiovascular disease. Since there is no information provided on the drugs’ effect on “good” cholesterol levels, we cannot conclude that this is a positive effect of taking Evolocumab and statins in conjunction. Furthermore, it is stated that this particular finding comes from an international study, which, due to significant disparities in life styles and diets across different cultures, may mean that this statistic is not generalisable to Britain.

It can also be argued that the 1.5% difference found between the placebo condition and those on the drug combination in cutting the risk of heart problems, is not significant enough to be deemed “the most important advancements” in fighting heart disease. Although there is no statistic given of a control group comprised of participants taking neither a placebo or the statin-evolocumab concoction, it a possibility that the placebo effect was enough to reduce the risk of heart problems in patients alone. It is also crucial to note that it took a relatively large sample size of 27500 patients in order for a weak but statistically significant benefit to be found.

Throughout the article, a Professor by the name of Peter Sever, makes several claims about the benefits of this new drug, including the fact that it has done “far and away more than any statin has ever done”. He also concludes that the findings of trials involving the new drug combination is a “huge breakthrough”, adding “new dimensions for patients” suffering from heart disease. It is these hyperbolic phrases that prompted me to do my own research into the clinical background of Professor Peter Sever. Upon further investigation I found that although a highly cited researcher, all of Sever’s past research has been funded by Pharmaceutical companies. This raises concerns surrounding Sever’s motives for such strong endorsement of the drug, as it would be of benefit to the pharmaceutical company to promote the drug, and in Sever’s best interest to appeal to his funders.

Interestingly, in the comments and discussion area at the end of the article, the author of the piece, Mark Porter, points out that lifestyle interventions post-heart attack such as the mediterranean diet, has an effectiveness of preventing 1 in every 18 heart attacks, a statistic far superior to the use of cholesterol-lowering drugs. Had this statistic been included in the original article, I believe it would have provided a much more balanced and informative argument.

In conclusion I believe the claim that the drug “prevents cardiovascular disease” is hyperbolic and sensationalised, a more appropriate claim would be so say that the combined effect of taking the two drugs (statins and evolocumab) marginally reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease in those with an already existent heart condition.


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Student Blog: Oxford students are the hardest working in the UK, but they’re also the most miserable


Headline: Oxford students are the hardest working in the UK, but they’re also the most miserable

The article states that students studying in the area of Oxford are the unhappiest students in the country and from the start gives statistics to shock the reader such as “22% of people studying at the city’s two universities saying they regret enrolling,” however, at no point gives the link or original data from the ‘Sodexo’ survey that these statistics have come from. The article does say that the survey asked thousands of students but it is not specific on the sample number or the number of respondents they asked and from which exact universities and so for this reason could be misleading to the reader. It is extremely difficult to find information on the Sodexo website and unclear where exactly they got their data from and so as well as not directly giving the information on where they found the statistics from, online it is also unclear as to where the readers can so find out for themselves. As the survey was done by ‘Sodexo student living’ it has not been carried out by an official university or government organisation it could be said to be misleading and low in validity as a research. It is unclear what exactly the students are unhappy with, despite the article mentioning that it asked about nightlife and takeaways due to not having easy access to the data itself, it is not known what the attitudes were towards other areas of university life such as social societies, which may enable us to see that they are happier with certain aspects of life there.

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Student Blog: your sofa can give you cancer

In April 2017 the Daily Mail released an article with the following headline: Your sofa can give you CANCER: Material used to fireproof settees are linked to a 74% rise in thyroid tumours.


It can be seen that the statistic on thyroid cancer rates is accurate because the Cancer Research UK website reads ‘Over the last decade, thyroid cancer incidence rates have increased by almost three-quarters (74%) in the UK…’ However questions are raised in regards to the headlines claim that there is a link between materials used to fireproof settees and a rise in thyroid cancer. The article has made a link between the rise of thyroid cancer and flame retardants based on the following information:

  • The Government was warned of the dangers of the chemicals in flame retardants by the civil servant for furniture fire safety policy.
  • Terry Edge, who left the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy last year, said the following ‘Flame retardants are causing thousands of cancers…’
  • According to the Daily Mail, US researchers have blamed the rise in thyroid cancer on flame retardants.
  • Scientists from Duke University found that thyroid cancer patients had a high exposure to flame retardants.
  • The chemicals in flame retardants are linked with cancer because they interfere with hormones.

This demonstrates that there is existing evidence of a relationship between flame retardants and thyroid cancer. However, the wording of the headline makes it misleading. For example, ‘Your sofa can give you cancer’, it isn’t the sofa that gives you cancer like this is suggesting but the chemicals in the flame retardants used to fireproof your sofa.

This article could also be criticised on the following accounts. Further on in the article it explains how these flame retardants are also used in mattresses and carpets, therefore the headline is withholding information when just mentioning sofas.

Something that the scientists at Duke University found that all those with thyroid cancer had in common was their high exposure to specific chemicals in retardants, however this does not mean that it is these chemicals which caused cancer in each one of them. Furthermore, it could be a coincidence that they all have this in common.

The opening sentence of the article reads ‘Toxic chemicals…have caused a surge in thyroid cancer’, this suggests that chemicals alone have caused the increase but there may be other causes they are choosing not to cover in the article.

In addition, it can be seen in the article that one chemical was banned in 2004 and another 16 years ago, the article acknowledged that these chemicals could still be present in homes where furniture featuring these chemicals was bought before these times, however the thyroid cancer rates that the article is reporting is relevant to now. The question could be raised as to why these chemicals which begun to be banned 16 years ago have only apparently caused a rise in thyroid cancer in the last decade.

Despite these criticisms, it can be concluded that the Daily Mail is not entirely wrong in claiming that there is a relationship between flame retardants used on sofas and other furniture and the rate of thyroid cancer, however the headline is misleading. Furthermore, since the topic of this article is related to a health issue it could be argued that it is right that precautions are being taken, moreover the question could be asked as to whether or not these precautions are as a result of an over exaggeration or not.


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