How statistics lost their power – and why we should fear what comes next

 

Rather than diffusing controversy and polarisation, it seems as if statistics are actually stoking them. Antipathy to statistics has become one of the hallmarks of the populist right, with statisticians and economists chief among the various “experts” that were ostensibly rejected by voters in 2016. Not only are statistics viewed by many as untrustworthy, there appears to be something almost insulting or arrogant about them. Reducing social and economic issues to numerical aggregates and averages seems to violate some people’s sense of political decency. Nowhere is this more vividly manifest than with immigration. The thinktank British Future has studied how best to win arguments in favour of immigration and multiculturalism. One of its main findings is that people often respond warmly to qualitative evidence, such as the stories of individual migrants and photographs of diverse communities. But statistics – especially regarding alleged benefits of migration to Britain’s economy – elicit quite the opposite reaction. People assume that the numbers are manipulated and dislike the elitism of resorting to quantitative evidence. Presented with official estimates of how many immigrants are in the country illegally, a common response is to scoff. Far from increasing support for immigration, British Future found, pointing to its positive effect on GDP can actually make people more hostile to it. GDP itself has come to seem like a Trojan horse for an elitist liberal agenda. Sensing this, politicians have now largely abandoned discussing immigration in economic terms.

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How statistics lost their power – and why we should fear what comes next

 

Rather than diffusing controversy and polarisation, it seems as if statistics are actually stoking them. Antipathy to statistics has become one of the hallmarks of the populist right, with statisticians and economists chief among the various “experts” that were ostensibly rejected by voters in 2016. Not only are statistics viewed by many as untrustworthy, there appears to be something almost insulting or arrogant about them. Reducing social and economic issues to numerical aggregates and averages seems to violate some people’s sense of political decency. Nowhere is this more vividly manifest than with immigration. The thinktank British Future has studied how best to win arguments in favour of immigration and multiculturalism. One of its main findings is that people often respond warmly to qualitative evidence, such as the stories of individual migrants and photographs of diverse communities. But statistics – especially regarding alleged benefits of migration to Britain’s economy – elicit quite the opposite reaction. People assume that the numbers are manipulated and dislike the elitism of resorting to quantitative evidence. Presented with official estimates of how many immigrants are in the country illegally, a common response is to scoff. Far from increasing support for immigration, British Future found, pointing to its positive effect on GDP can actually make people more hostile to it. GDP itself has come to seem like a Trojan horse for an elitist liberal agenda. Sensing this, politicians have now largely abandoned discussing immigration in economic terms.

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Facebook’s Like button is a built-in filter bubble

 

Imagine if every newspaper came with a mandatory T-shirt. Suddenly, that tabloid you paged through out of curiosity becomes part of your identity. You have to explain to friends that despite being a walking billboard, you don’t actually agree with The Wall Street Journal’s conservative editorials, or think The New York Times is too liberal but still covers the facts. Increasingly, you stick to outlets you unambiguously approve of, reinforcing things you already believe. This is how Facebook imagines the future of news, and it’s absurd.

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How shapes can predict your tolerance of ‘deviancy’

Here’s a simple question that can tell us an awful lot about you. Is this a circle? If you said: “Yeah, sure, close enough,” then you are probably politically liberal, and strongly support the idea of government aid for the homeless and unemployed. You are also likely to support same-sex marriage and legalisation of marijuana for recreational use. If you said: “No, of course not,” then you are probably politically conservative, and strongly support the idea of protecting the rights of business owners and having a strong military. You are likely to take a particularly dim view of illegal immigration, and would come down strongly on even relatively low-level crime, such as drug use and prostitution.

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Welcome to Jun, the town that ditched bureaucracy to run on Twitter

Elena Almagro was cleaning floors when she was nine, and didn’t learn to read or write because her family were too poor to send her to school. Now in her 60s, Elena says she never thought she would be able to use Twitter when the mayor started to encourage her. “He said I should enrol on a training course, and I thought I was visiting the moon when I saw all the computers and equipment in there,” she said. Encouraged by her nine-year-old grandson, they both learned Twitter and decided it would be useful. She tweets during town meetings, she says. “And when I tweet to the mayor, he answers back. It makes me feel my tweets matter. I thought old people couldn’t learn how to use this but we can. There was a man of 90 in the training centre! And I’ve been using it to tweet about herbs and recipes.”

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The seats where Tories weren’t blue and Labour wasn’t red

The UK’s political parties are closely identified with particular colours – but in some parts of the country they traditionally fought under quite different shades. Three candidates gather on a podium. Each wears a coloured rosette. So far, so humdrum. Except that here it’s the Conservative wearing red, Labour’s candidate in green and the victorious Liberal in blue and orange. This is the general election of February 1974 and the constituency is Berwick-upon-Tweed – one of a number of UK seats where candidates traditionally fought elections in colours other than those typically linked with their parties today.

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In the chaos of coalition, the best storyteller will win

People died – 19 Labour MPs in total, many of them from sheer exhaustion at the stress, the all-night sittings, and the fact that every single day the government might fall. I found their stories often very moving. Joe Harper, one of the whips, died after delaying an operation so he could be around to vote. The gravely ill Alfred “Doc” Broughton, a staunch Labour man all his life, was the one vote missing from the confidence motion that saw the government finally fall after five years. One single vote. His heart stopped beating five days later, and he died a broken man.

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Rand Paul is erasing Paul Rand

Paul Rand is one of the most influential graphic designers of the 20th century, creator of iconic logos for IBM and UPS, among others. He pioneered the logo as corporate identity, defined by simple shapes and primary colors. He has been dead for 18 years. Rand Paul is the junior senator from Kentucky, elected in 2010 and currently in the running for the Republican candidacy for president. He has taken outspoken positions against the War on Terror and the criminalization of drugs, and is one of the leading proponents of libertarianism within the US government. Rand Paul is erasing Paul Rand.

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I am a cook in the US Senate but I still need food stamps to feed my children

Every day, I serve food to some of the most powerful people on earth, including many of the senators who are running for president: I’m a cook for the federal contractor that runs the US Senate cafeteria. But today, they’ll have to get their meals from someone else’s hands, because I’m on strike.

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All Day Long: a Portrait of Britain at Work review – is our labour really working?

Ina, who hasn’t told her boyfriend what she does, is happy for Biggs to use her real name; R, who worked in Pret a Manger for several years, isn’t. R earned £200 a week, which rose to £245 if the store got its weekly bonus. The bonus was dependent on the mystery shopper employed by Pret, observing “passion” in the service when she or he bought an undercover sandwich. If you were the named barista who lost the shop the bonus, everyone else knew about it. At first R did not believe the shopper existed, but then a few times, the bonus was not paid. After that, “from Monday to Monday every single customer that you serve, you have to give your absolute 100%”, R said. “There wasn’t really anywhere to hide.”

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