How Statistics Lost Their Power – and Why We Should Fear What Comes Next

How Statistics Lost Their Power – and Why We Should Fear What Comes Next

The Guardian, 2017

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Statistics were once the authority on facts, but society has grown increasingly wary of them, especially of their use in politics. Sociologist and political economist William Davies explains what led to statistics’ fall from grace. He considers statistics in the context of their history and offers an opinion on why big data analysis can’t replace the service statistics provide for democracy. 


Statistics were once the go-to place for factual evidence. They have since become mired in mistrust. People fear the massaging of numbers for political benefit. Immigration is one example: Statistics show that immigration improves economic health. However, presenting such figures doesn’t convince people and instead makes them oppose immigration more. Conversely, emotional stories of immigrant family plights are more likely to sway public opinion.  

Modern statistics began to alter the role of politics in the latter half of the 17th century. Modern European rulers moved from the costly census which traditionally considered only politically...

About the Author

Sociologist and political economist William Davies wrote The Limits of Neoliberalism and The Happiness Industry.

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