Small changes, to small numbers, net large percentage changes

Math, being math, means that if you take a small number and double it (e.g. 1 + 1 = 2), you get a massive, nay alarming, percentage increase. Which does make for click bait, err.. a good headline, when it comes to things like cyclist death in the UK. There are so many issues with the use of the data (linked below) to draw speculative conclusions, that I hesitated to even link to it. But, after reflecting, I think it’s important to provide a counter voice here.

I think the author said it best with:

Well, it could be a short-term statistical blip, something we have certainly seen in the past.

Instead of stopping there, they go on to wildly speculate on the possible causes. First acknowledging that more cyclists/road miles would naturally increase incidents (interestingly, no line was drawn between the increase in bike sales, and the possibility that this could equate to more people new to cycling, and therefore more likely to be unfamiliar with safety rules, biking on the road, etc), but mostly settling on bad drivers, behaving badly, because less traffic.

While that is possible, British B-roads are fun to drive, and traffic policing largely non-existent on them, even pre-COVID, the fact of the matter is that there just isn’t enough data to draw any conclusions about anything. But why let sensibility get in the way of a “good headline” when you have an agenda to promote?

To be clear, I am completely on board with the fact that the roads are for everyone to use, and many drivers don’t seem to get that. My issue is with the tactics employed here. I think it’s counterproductive to make the numbers fit the narrative, because when your math doesn’t work it delegitimizes everything that follows.

You Might Also Like

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x