Listening to R4’s Today programme this morning I learn we are celebrating European Statistics Day. Or at least 48.6 per cent of us are. Geddit?
Anyway, shortly afterwards there was a segment on Oxbridge admissions from low-income families. Oxbridge is dominated by the offspring of the professional classes, said David Lammy. Not so, replied Oxford’s Dr Samina Khan, students from low-income families have a greater chance of winning a place.
Two things wrong with this. First, Dr Khan is attempting to answer the charge by presenting statistical evidence for a different question. Second, her use of statistics highlights once again that data can be twisted depending on what you want it to say. In this case the Oxford arguement is, if one fifth of the small minority of applicants from low-income families win a place, then that represents better odds than the one in ten chance facing the majority of applicants who come from wealthier backgrounds. Can’t fault the maths, but it doesn’t address the problem. The result is still an overwhelmingly middle-class Oxbridge.
There’s a bit of obsfucation in all of this. Yes, the discussion went on to look at ‘the pipeline problem’, but Oxford led with those troublesome stats. A irritating way to kick-start European Statistics Day.