Opinion Column: Statistics, Lies And Politics

November 20, 2013

walton brown plp bermuda[Opinion column written by MP Walton Brown] Last week was a tough week for statistics. This is quite unfortunate since they should have neither good nor bad days –they should really just stand as incontrovertible results whose meanings we debate and use to buttress or defeat arguments. On two separate occasions we saw statistics—no less Bermuda Government Department of Statistics data—handled in ways that should cause us all to be deeply concerned.

The most damaging salvo was unleashed by the irrepressibly pugnacious Minister for Finance ET Richards. During the early hours of Saturday morning, when the marathon 12 hour debate on the Throne Speech was winding down, Richards awakened from a brief nap and took to his feet.

In his defence of his government’s economic and immigration policy he launched a strong attack on the figures I used during my contribution to the debate. My numbers were based entirely on government data published by the Department of Statistics. In rejecting my argument, Minister Richards made the following statement, “Those statistics aren’t right…they were not right under you [PLP] and they are not right under us. I’m going to work to make them right.”

There are two disturbing aspects here. Firstly, the Minister has dismissed the work of a Department that for decades has been the embodiment of professionalism and has consistently delivered high calibre work. Never before has there been any, even implied, criticism of the work of this highly qualified group of women and men. Minister Richards has evidently come to the conclusion that his gut instinct is better able to calculate population size, migration patterns and workforce data than his team of statisticians.

Secondly, his undertaking to “make them right” raises the prospect of ministerial interference in what is and should always be work well beyond the pale of politics. Making statistics “right” in this sense can only mean making them look as Minister Richards thinks they should look, rather than as they really are.

In addition to the obvious wrongs in making statistics “right” the policy consequences of acting on false data could be disastrous. It could lead to an ill conceived economic, immigration and education strategy. Minister Richards needs to step away from any adventures along the road called interference and leave the Department of Statistics to continue its good work.

A few days before the Richards outburst there was a more somber, analytical presentation made by the head of the human resources firm Expertise, Mr Douglas Soares. As a former student of mine at Bermuda College, I know Doug to be careful and rigourous in his analysis and one disinclined to try to fit facts to the narrative he wishes to advance. On the education levels of the Bermudian workforce, though, he has missed the mark considerably and inadvertently misled the public, given the considerable attention his Rotary speech attracted.

Referring to the Bermuda Census 2010, Mr Soares stated that 26% of working age Bermudians had no academic qualifications at all and only 19% had degrees. He further states “Census data from other countries also strongly suggests that the rate at which we produce university educated citizens is very low.” And finally, “It is clear: Bermuda lags behind many of our competitor jurisdictions and we must do better.”

Unfortunately, Mr Soares has his numbers wrong. He takes his numbers from page 31 of the 2010 Census, but those figures refer to all Bermudians aged 16 years and older. The universal standard is to look at the numbers for the working age population, which is set at ages 25-64. Expertise should be well aware on this when addressing such an emotive issue. Certainly, all the countries he seeks to compare Bermuda to are assessed based on the working age population.

When re-calibrated to make for proper international comparisons and to reflect the education levels among the Bermudian working population—as opposed to all Bermudians 25-64 years of age—the results are quite different. Bermudians with BA degrees and higher account for 24.5% of the Bermudian workforce; those Bermudians with a technical qualification, vocational certificate and associated degree account for 22.9% of the population; one third of this workforce [32.6%] attained only high school leaving certificates or equivalent; and 16.8% hold no formal educational attainment. These data alone undermined the merits of Mr Soares’s argument.

When compared with other jurisdictions, however, Bermuda is holding its own in terms of educational attainment. In a 2012 OECD study [PDF here] on tertiary educational attainment for populations between 25 and 64, Bermuda tied the OECD average at 31%.

The impression given by Mr Soares is that Bermuda has a comparatively less educated workforce and that the overall level of educational attainment is low. The statistics simply do not support this argument – and therefore the policy implications.

As tough as last week was for statistics they stand unmoved and ready for interpretation. They should be used first to gain insight and then form the foundation of data driven and fact driven strategies. Anything less simply will not do.

- Walton Brown is the elected MP for C#17 Pembroke Central, representing the PLP. He earned his Bachelors in Political Studies from Queen’s University and his Masters in Political Science from York University. The author of “Bermuda and the Struggle for Reform: Race, Politics and Ideology, 1944-1998,” Mr Brown taught politics and history for twelve years at Bermuda College, and is the President of Research Innovations.

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Comments (41)

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  1. Kim Smith says:

    It’s quite well known that a person presenting statistics will present them and speak of them in terms that would support whatever they are saying… sort of like the ‘truth’… and of our tendency to write ourselves in as the hero in our own story (and so others as the villain).

  2. Nuffin but da Truth says:

    yeah yeah,blah,blah,blah,same old b/s from the plp.

    • haha says:

      aink even gotta read it inna….lol

      • David says:

        I skipped his whole article and caem to the comment section.. same ole same ole.. next!

        • David says:

          *came..

          • Independent says:

            @ David,

            You really show how mature you are commenting on something you haven’t event read. Gotta give you 2 thumbs up for that one buddy. lol

    • Time Shall Tell says:

      Grow up or Bermuda’s deep divide problem will remain.

  3. Moojun says:

    Always remember, when anyone uses statistical data, that “there are lies, damn lies, and statistics”. You always, always have to look at the underlying assumptions.

  4. aceboy says:

    Sorry Walton, I don’t even bother to read your drivel any longer. Not after the nonesense you spewed leading up to the last election.

    • Time Shall Tell says:

      No matter how you feel about a person there’s always a lesson that can be learned. You need to be more neutral & take each interaction with someone in it’s own merit rather then shutting them out entirely.

      • Hmmmm says:

        Yes, I learned that you (‘Time Shall Tell’) made unsubstantiated claims that Ms Foggo was constantly in the press. I challenged you regarding your claims with Ms. Foggo and you were proved absolutely wrong. Regarding this Opinion piece, the section on Richards has no substance or basis for us to form our own opinion…for it to be true we would have to JUST BELIEVE religiously.

        • Time Shall Tell says:

          Actually you refused to do what I suggested to you so if you refuse to look for the truth yourself then don’t expect people to line up to spoon feed your lazy self..

          • Hmmmm says:

            Wrong again…. I looked it up myself after no response from you.

            Speaking from the GUT are you?

  5. Joonya says:

    Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz..

  6. Campervan says:

    Bermuda is still in a five year death spiral. The UK is in a period of sustained recovery and falling unemployment.
    Statistic yourself out of that.

  7. Hmmmm says:

    Regarding the educational attainment statistic presented via a link.

    How does that statistic break down?

    Does that reflect All Bermuda School education, just Government Schools, or all residents of Bermuda. If it’s the latter, then that include a lot of very highly qualified folks in the International sector who were not educated in Bermuda.

  8. Lightning says:

    If Richards was indeed napping, I could completely understand if he was listening to WB spew this nonsense from his newly purchased thesaurus (or maybe the Cog lent her’s to him since she doesn’t need it anymore?).

  9. Winnie Dread says:

    Mr.Brown I understand your point,the point Mr.Richards is making and also the point Mr.Soares is making. My thing is can we find a common solution between all points to make them work for Bermuda’s benefit, this applies to all the other factors.

  10. Victor says:

    Statistics has been going to the dogs ever since Mr. Keith Stanton passed away(a great man and character), not in much better shape than most other Govt departments. It needs to be made lean and mean, churning out relevant figures – if it had, perhaps Col Burch would have thought twice about his immigration policies which clearly made the economic bust far worse than it had to be and recovery that much more distant,(though I doubt it because the Col is far too arrogant to listen to anybody with a different point of view). As for Mr. Brown, his disaapointment at not having a ministerial paycheck is palpable; perhaps if he and a few of his colleagues admitted to their party’s role in this present mess, assisted in tracking down the unaccounted for millions, and told their lackey’s down at City Hall to get with the program, they might garner more respect from that sector of the population that funds this country.

  11. Navin Johnson says:

    Yes of course Walton …..our excellent statistical department tells us that our population is over 65,000 and we have empty streets….where did all of the people go.? The Government statistics are as accurate as the Bermuda Weather Service…….

    • Triangle Drifter says:

      This is not the same statistical department that took 2 years, or was it 3 years, to do a census for what amounts to one little town was it?

      Yet another department ripe for fat cutting starting at the top.

      • navin johnson says:

        Perhaps it is the same Census Department who showed up at my door 3 times over a 6 month period only to be told each time that we had completed the forms…..maybe that is why they say we have over 65,000 people…they counted my household 3 times?

  12. Hmmmm says:

    ” he launched a strong attack ”
    “salvo was unleashed by the irrepressibly pugnacious Minister”

    The wording in the above is intended to sound bad, but it means Richards was strong, wouldn’t back down and wouldn’t quit…Good on you Mr Richards challenging the ‘it must be right because that’s the way we’ve always done it’ approach.

    “Minister Richards has evidently come to the conclusion that his gut instinct is better able to calculate population size, migration patterns and workforce data than his team of statisticians”

    BUT, nowhere was Richards quoted as saying the above in the article. It is surely you that have come to this conclusion from your own GUT Mr Brown.

  13. Truth is killin' me... says:

    I see children swapping spitballs in the playground again! GTFU or STFU. Statistically speaking I would bet that 99.99% of the Bermuda voting population are tired of all this nonsense. Get this island moving forward please!!!!

  14. Former Union Member says:

    I do believe there is room to ‘interpret’ the numbers put out by the Dept of Statistics. I don’t doubt the staff’s committment to provide valuable information…but I DO know filling out their annual forms is not a task high on anyone’s priority list. I suspect many folks just throw reasonable numbers at them from the top of their heads to make them go away. Accurate? Hardly.

  15. Bulldog says:

    While I understand, the OBA supporters defending the political jab at Minister Richards, the rest of the article was based upon statistics and an explanation of the difference in interpretation. The unfortunate reality in this politically immature country is that blind loyalty is rampant. I make no apologies for being a labour supporter but as such I am quick to highlight what I don’t agree with and hold them accountable. ALL observers of the political scene in Bermuda MUST do the same, regardless of who they support. Don’t take the defensive stance that because someone from the other side said it that it is complete hogwash. That mentality flies in the face of what kind of government the OBA said that they wanted, but the comments for anything are just so poisonous and filled with hate… So sad for our country… Time to grow up…

  16. Tough Love says:

    Here is an article that is defending Bermudian people, stating that we are NOT as uneducated as certain people would have us to believe. Yet the comments on here are attacking the author! I take it the ones that are insulting MP Brown are uneducated and don’t care how Bermudians are portrayed.

  17. Tough Love says:

    Or maybe you are the highly educated Expat who just loves demeaning Bermudians.

  18. Realist says:

    Remember Walton’s cousin telling us we were in “the platinum period” of tourism,yet numbers were going down every year under the PLP.
    The current Minister of Tourism should be congratulated for the increase of air arrivals recently!

    • Independent says:

      @ Realist,

      If you want to thank anyone for the number increase, thank the staff at the Department of Tourism. Mr. Crockewell has been following plans that were in place already, so your point is?

      • aceboy says:

        So you think we are in the Platinum Period now Independent?

        • Sandy Bottom says:

          If anything unwelcome happens “why didn’t the OBA do something yet”
          If anything welcome happens “this all happened because of what the PLP did”

          • Indepedent says:

            @ Sandy Bottom,

            And where in my statement did you gather that? I am simply stating the facts, go prove to me I am lying. You don’t think Mr. Crockwell came up with these ideas did you? Man knows nothing about the industry, another fact.

        • Indepedent says:

          @ Realist,

          I never said that, don’t try to put words in my mouth. IF you don’t believe my statement, do the research for yourself.

  19. Argosy says:

    Where were you when the Doc was interpreting the stats of the day for us, Walton? Never heard boo from you back then! And what about Paula telling us that the economic recovery had begun…..! That’s why your party got voted out, don’t you get it yet?

  20. Realist says:

    @independent
    Minister Crockwell is doing an excellent job,considering the mess the PLP left tourism in!

  21. Really says:

    Yawwwwwwwwwwwwwnnnnnn