How statistics lost their power – and why we should fear what comes next
In theory, statistics should help settle arguments. They ought to provide stable reference points that everyone – no matter what their politics – can agree on. Yet in recent years, divergent levels of trust in statistics has become one of the key schisms that have opened up in western liberal democracies. Shortly before the November presidential election, a study in the US discovered that 68% of Trump supporters distrusted the economic data published by the federal government. In the UK, a research project by Cambridge University and YouGov looking at conspiracy theories discovered that 55% of the population believes that the government “is hiding the truth about the number of immigrants living here”. Rather than diffusing controversy and polarisation, it seems as if statistics are actually stoking them. Nowhere is this more vividly manifest than with immigration. All of this presents a serious challenge for liberal democracy. This is an unwelcome dilemma. Here’s a problem, though.
• Florilèges - Transfert du savoir libre, 2017