Software // Information Management
News
5/29/2013
12:31 PM
50%
50%

Parliament Slams U.K. Government Spin Doctors

Government press releases cite statistics selectively, undermining public trust and good policymaking, say members of Parliament.

Tablet Buying Demystified: 10 Tips
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
Tablet Buying Demystified: 10 Tips
Quite a rebuke tor a government that says it's all about opening its data for wider public benefit: An influential committee of British members of Parliament (MPs) said the way the state publishes and organizes its data needs a big revamp.

Parliament's Public Affairs Select Committee (PASC) has criticized in a report how government spin doctors use information that may be true, but is presented in a way that distorts the truth.

The group said government statistics press releases do not always give a "true and fair" picture of the story behind the statistics, and calls out press officers "sometimes going too far to create a newsworthy headline."

That means, said the report's summary (in perhaps more diplomatic language), "in some cases, the story behind [government] statistics is reduced in its presentation to such an extent that the picture is no longer true and fair."

[ Parliament's been busy checking up on ministry operations. Read British Tax Authority Criticized On Data Handling. ]

It cites examples such as a change in one month's figures on trade or unemployment generating the headline in a government press statement, while the more significant trend over the year is ignored.

Public trust in the integrity of government policy will be more likely if the public understand the evidence base and the statistics used, argued the study. Communicating statistics accurately, effectively and fairly is therefore an important way for the British government to "uphold its accountability to the public and to ensure transparency in what it does."

And though the MPs do praise the efforts of the main generators of official U.K. government data -- the U.K. Statistics Authority, the Office for National Statistics and Whitehall statisticians -- to better communicate statistics, it does also warn that "wider and deeper improvements are still needed to the presentation and explanation of government statistics" if public trust in them, and therefore in public policy, is to be "earned and kept."

That's why PASC's chairman, Bernard Jenkin MP, calls for "statistics officials to insist that press releases tell the true picture. Numbers may be perfectly true, but the act of selecting certain numbers distorts the true picture," he added.

This is important when those numbers are being used to justify a particular policy or apportioning of resources, said Jenkin, to such an extent that "spinning" reduces the story behind the statistics to such an extent the picture is no longer true.

In specific terms, PASC said the Office for National Statistics website must be improved, with government number-crunchers working much more closely with different kinds of users to present statistics in ways that meet their different needs.

Meanwhile, the Statistics Authority should find more "creative ways of communicating statistics," for example through interactive guides.

This should be in addition to the publication of more raw data in machine-readable format for experts who want the full results, it said, not just the "edited highlights" presented in releases for a "mass audience."

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
The Agile Archive
The Agile Archive
When it comes to managing data, donít look at backup and archiving systems as burdens and cost centers. A well-designed archive can enhance data protection and restores, ease search and e-discovery efforts, and save money by intelligently moving data from expensive primary storage systems.
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
InformationWeek Tech Digest, Dec. 9, 2014
Apps will make or break the tablet as a work device, but don't shortchange critical factors related to hardware, security, peripherals, and integration.
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
InformationWeek Radio
Archived InformationWeek Radio
Join us for a roundup of the top stories on InformationWeek.com for the week of December 14, 2014. Be here for the show and for the incredible Friday Afternoon Conversation that runs beside the program.
Sponsored Live Streaming Video
Everything You've Been Told About Mobility Is Wrong
Attend this video symposium with Sean Wisdom, Global Director of Mobility Solutions, and learn about how you can harness powerful new products to mobilize your business potential.