Post Post-Truth

postfaktisch

‘Fake-news’ and ‘post-truth’ (postfaktisch) are the words dominating today many discussions about truth in communication.

' ... in post-truth [post] has a meaning more like ‘belonging to a time in which the specified concept [truth] has become unimportant or irrelevant’' (https://www.oxforddictionaries.com/press/news/2016/11/15/WOTY-16).

False information or even lies are not new in the information business. And therefore many, and many more websites help to separate wrong from right:

The Reporters’ Lab maintains a database of global fact-checking sites.

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And Alexios Mantzarlis ‘collected 366 links, one for each day of the year …  to understand fact-checking in 2016′.

 

Official Statistics’ Ethical Codex

Officials Statistics collect, analyze and disseminate statistical information since long and are also confronted with wrong citations, misuse of statistics and lies. Many of the ethical codices of official statistics recommend acting against such false information.

‘In 1992, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) adopted the fundamental principles of official statistics in the UNECE region. The United Nations Statistical Commission adopted these principles in 1994 at the global level. The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) endorsed the Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics in 2013; and in January 2014, they were adopted by General Assembly. This recognition at the highest political level underlines that official statistics – reliable and objective information – is crucial for decision making.’

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Two paragraphs are of special interest:

‘ 2. Professional standards and ethics
To retain trust in official statistics, the statistical agencies need to decide according to strictly professional considerations, including scientific principles and professional ethics, on the methods and procedures for the collection, processing, storage and presentation of statistical data.’

AND:

‘4. Prevention of misuse
The statistical agencies are entitled to comment on erroneous interpretation and misuse of statistics.’

The European Statistics Code of Practice says in principle 1:

1.7: The National Statistical Institute and Eurostat and, where appropriate, other statistical authorities, comment publicly on statistical issues, including criticisms and misuses of statistics as far as considered suitable.

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N.B: Wikipedia’s page on Misuse of statistics presents a broad view how readers can be fooled by many types of misuse.

It’s dissemination – …

False – and especially deliberately false – information as a weapon in manipulating decisions isn’t new either. But new is how such information spreads: with the help of social media dissemination gains a new level  (some say like earlier Gutenberg’s printing press ).

Anne Applebaum gives a practical illustration of how it can work:

‘I was a victim of a Russian smear campaign. I understand the power of fake news.

It was a peculiar experience, but I learned a lot. As I watched the story move around the Web, I saw how the worlds of fake websites and fake news exist to reinforce one another and give falsehood credence. Many of the websites quoted not the original, dodgy source, but one another. There were more phony sites than I’d realized, though I also learned that many of their “followers” (maybe even most of them) are bots — bits of computer code that can be programmed to imitate human social media accounts and told to pass on particular stories.
….
But it is also true that we are living through a global media revolution, that people are hearing and digesting political information in brand-new ways and that nobody yet understands the consequences. Fake stories are easier to create, fake websites can be designed to host them, and social media rapidly disseminates disinformation that people trust because they get it from friends. This radical revolution has happened without many politicians noticing or caring — unless, like me, they happened to have seen how the new system of information exchange works.’

 

2017

May 2017 become the year of people who know about the power and the dangers of misleading information!
My best wishes to the colleagues in Official Statistics and their professional producing and disseminating information …. and perhaps statistical dissemination will need to be more active on social media, too.

 

 

20 Years Ago

1996

On the 2nd of September 1996, Statistics Switzerland published its brand-new website, www.bfs.admin.ch. It was one of the first (if not the first) of the Swiss Administration (www.admin.ch).

info-internet

In three languages…

… and already with quite rich structure and content.

SwissStats-April1997

The Wayback Machine …

… shows the developments since 1996

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https://archive.org/web/.

1996:
Handmade with Frontpage as editing software

SwissStats-fields

https://web.archive.org/web/19970502093430/http://www.admin.ch/bfs/stat_ch/eber_m.htm

November 2004:
New layout, made with Day Communiqué as Content Management System and a database for file download

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December 2007 ff
Layout adapted to the general layout of admin.ch. The same CMS now bought by Adobe and renamed Adobe Experience Manager AEM

StatSchweiz-Dezember2007

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The next one …

… must be based on a new technology:

  • CMS remains state of the art for content presentation
  • Assets come from databases
  • Web services (via a web service platform) deliver assets from databases to the presentation platform.

And with such a three-layer architecture the website will be able to display data from ubiquitous databases and also offering data to third parties via web services: Open data compatible.

Disrupting Dissemination – From Print to Bots

Digitally disrupted data production

“The collection of statistics has been digitally disrupted, along with everything else, and there are important questions about collection methods and whether or not “big data” genuinely offers promise for a giant leap forward in the productivity of official statistics.”

This statement in Financial Times’ edition of August 20th, 2015 deals with UK’s Office for National Statistics ONS. Its title:  “UK needs a statistical strategy to catch up with digital disruption”. Its message: ONS (and I think all Official Statistics) has problems to keep up “with the profound changes in the structure of the economy during recent decades.”

The “Independent Review of UK Economic Statistics” by Professor Sir Charles Bean, Professor of Economics at the London School of Economics in March 2016 goes deeper and gives 24 recommendations, some of these obviously valid for statistics’ production and producers in general.

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“Innovation and technological change are the wellspring of economic advancement. The rapid and sustained rise in computing power, the digitisation of information and increased connectivity have together radically altered the way people conduct their lives today, both at work and play. These advances have also made possible new ways of exchanging goods and services, prompted the creation of new and disruptive business models, and made the location of economic activity more nebulous. This has generated a whole new range of challenges in measuring the economy.” (p.71)

“Measuring the economy has become even more challenging in recent times, in part as a consequence of the digital revolution. Quality improvements and product innovation have been especially rapid in the field of information technology. Not only are such quality improvements themselves difficult to measure, but they have also made possible completely new ways of exchanging and providing services. Disruptive business models, such as those of Spotify, Amazon Marketplace and Airbnb, are often not well-captured by established statistical methods, while the increased opportunities enabled by online connectivity and access to information provided through the internet have muddied the boundary between work and home production. Moreover, while measuring physical capital – machinery and structures – is hard enough, in the modern economy, intangible and unobservable knowledge-based assets have become increasingly important. Finally, businesses such as Google operate across national boundaries in ways that can render it difficult to allocate value added to particular countries in a meaningful fashion. Measuring the economy has never been harder.” (p. 3)

And: “Recommended Action 4: In conjunction with suitable partners in academia and the user community, ONS should establish a new centre of excellence for the analysis of emerging and future issues in measuring the modern economy.”  (p.118)

Disrupting Dissemination of Statistics

The rise of new technologies followed by new information behavior has also disrupted existing dissemination formats (from print to digital) and dissemination practices (from quasi-monopolistic to open and multiple).

A well-known example for disrupting dissemination is given by Wikipedia and its subject is Wikipedia itself:
“The free, online encyclopedia Wikipedia was a disruptive innovation that had a major impact on both the traditional, for-profit printed paper encyclopedia market (e.g., Encyclopedia Britannica) and the for-profit digital encyclopedia market (e.g.,Encarta). The English Wikipedia provides over 5 million articles for free; in contrast, a $1,000 set of Britannica volumes had 120,000 articles.” (Article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disruptive_innovation)

In fact, disruptive tendencies happen on both sides: in producing and in presenting or accessing statistical information.

Some thoughts about this:

  1. Until the end of the 20th-century, print was the main channel for disseminating statistics. Libraries in Statistical Offices and Society had their very vital role.
  2. With the internet opened a new channel: Statistical Offices’ Websites appeared, access to databases and attractive data presentation (visual, storytelling, see i.e. this) were top themes and stuff for long discussions. Access to data was now simple and for everyone.
  3. With the open data initiatives not only accessing but also disseminating statistical information got much easier. Nearly everyone could become a data provider. License fees no longer hindered the redisseminaton of official statistics and APIs or webservices provided by statistical offices made this possible in an automated way.
    Statistics can be easily integrated into websites and apps of non-official data providers, this with all the chances to enable democratic conversation and the risks of data misuse.
  4. All this gives statistics a much more important role in communication processes. On the other hand communicating with statistics gets simpler: Letters, telephone calls and even e-mails become cumbersome seen the possibility bots (will) provide. With a stats bot in my daily used messenger, I ask for a statistical information, and the bot uses a search engine or connects me directly to a statistical expert.
    Brands that already have full-fledged apps and responsive websites can take advantage of bots’ ability to act as concierges, handling basic tasks and micro-interactions for users and then gracefully connecting users with apps or websites, as appropriate, for a more involved experience.” (Adam Fingerman, venturebeat, 20.7.2016)
  5. What’s next? Innovation with disruption goes on, but disruption does not always mean destruction: It’s still a wise decision to keep some information in paper format. A statistical yearbook with key data lasts for centuries, not so a website, an API or a bot.

 

Attention please!

They all use statistics …  in the media, in politics, in sports. But they mostly forget that statistics, especially official statistics, are made by professionals in a quite demanding, time- and resource-consuming process. The WO/MAN-IN-THE-MIDDLE, the professionals, providing information and knowledge from facts remain hidden (despite Googles’ statement that statistician will be ‘the sexy job in the next ten years)


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Source: 'Statistics – A universal language', Swiss Statistics, Neuchâtel

How to promote the statisticians’ work?

This question is a perennial topic in the statistics community.  And the answers are manifold. Some examples:

Show the results!

Dissemination of statistics is widely developed and of high quality. Websites of statistical institutions present rich information – from simple facts to interactive presentations and visualisations.

New media play its role, too.  And they are important. Feeds and tweets are omnipresent (-> Some examples of official statistical tweets).

See Statistics Netherlands’ experience: ‘In addition to the normal distribution of news reports, Twitter has become a standard way for Statistics Netherlands to distribute day-to-day information. The number of followers of @statistiekcbs grew from 14,000 in early 2014 to almost 56,000 by the end of the year. In December, Statistics Netherlands’ tweets were viewed a total of 3.6 million times which represents an average of almost 120,000 per day. In the final months of 2014, news reports were being retweeted on an average of 100 times a day. `(Statistics Netherlands Annual Report for 2014, p.9)

Yes, ok … but the professionals behind these presentations are not visible. Even as brilliant presenters as Hans Rosling let us forget how the facts for his beautiful visualisations were prepared.

About us

Selfies of statistical institutions are standard on their websites. These presentations are short and normally without a marketing touch.

There are some examples, where a self-portrait gets an own website and presents more than static information about the institution. The European Statistical System (ESS)  publishes a website serving as a ‘single entry point to relevant information on the organization and activities of the ESS’ and its partner organizations. An RSS feed provides updates and readers can follow the work of more than 30 statistical institutions … so long as they provide their news to the website.

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Launching a campaign is another way to attract attention. This is mostly chosen for periodical Census. So for instance in the US, Germany or the UK. There are also mini-campaigns. ‘Statistics counts for you’ is such an example.

snip_20151126131832Clicking on the animated teaser in the homepage opens a new website with the message and a summary of available statistics. There’s no offer to communicate with the reader via news-tweets or newsletters.

And finally there are also examples of more interactive and user-oriented approaches.

CBS Corporate News

is a specific website ( http://corporate.cbs.nl ) and a beautiful presentation of Statistics Netherlands,  showing activities and achievements in six fields by choosing the relevant filters (like projects, events&congresses, new services, innovative developments, user relations and international affairs). It’s attractive, personal, interactive and provides updates via a newsletter.

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Chronostat

is an interactive, multimedia presentation of Statistics Switzerland’s activities and products.

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Five filters for topics (Personalities, Publications, Swiss History and Statistics, Achievements and Methods) and filters for years back to the beginnings of Statistics Switzerland in 1860 let readers follow multiple aspects of Statistics. With this timeline it provides an archive.

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Update it!

The be-all and end-all of statistical self-portraying are updating. Updated information presents an active institution and maintains the contact with users and interested groups. It fosters understanding for the work behind the statistical information and prevents from cutting necessary resources.

 

 

Today – Statsday

October 20th is the day of Official Statistics. It’s the day to highlight the importance of reliable, independent and high-quality numbers. Numbers that help to make good, evidence-based decisions.

This year “Better data, better lives” is the theme of the World Statistics Day selected by the United Nations General Assembly.

https://worldstatisticsday.org/

Many countries also celebrate this day and are planning special events. The new  UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will be the focus of most of these events.

More than just Numbers

The historical research uses statistics since ever.  And Official Statistics are a favourite source for quantitative historiography and digital humanities.

‘Statistics are more than just numbers’

Statistics New Zealand depicts the history of the capital Wellington with a popular format – an infographic.

‘In 1865, following a period of heated debate, an independent tribunal of three Australians selected Wellington to be New Zealand’s capital. Since that time a lot has changed in Wellington and Statistics NZ has been able to follow and track that change through the data it collects.’

How true!: ‘Statistics are more than just numbers, they can chart change, record history, and be a tool for decision making.’ (Source: Stats NZ)

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