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Work in the media? Struggle with statistics? Stan's irreverent (and often irrelevant) review of the latest media reports, news and gossip may not help at all... Stan the Statistician

Stan # 8: Education and religious marketing 17 February 1998

I read that 20% of adults in the UK are unable to read simple things like The Sun or fill in forms and that this figure has remained largely unchanged for the past 20 years. So what have teachers being doing in the classroom? They are better paid then ever before. They have more resources than ever before. I was told only the other day that someone came over to the UK from Mauritius (time to get the Atlas out again) to get a qualification because it was much more difficult over there. It seems that when people complain about the work of bodies such as teachers, probation workers or prison officers, the bodies moan that they are underfunded (i.e. they want an increase in pay) and that there is a crisis in their profession. But why should we pay them more when they have been doing such a crap job? And why should we pour in more resources when they have wasted what they have already? Are they suggesting we should throw good money after bad? Crime was much lower before we had probation officers, so maybe we should get rid of them all. Long ago, I used to teach in colleges of further education (16 years and over) and I saw the result of 11 years of education. It was sad to see intelligent people with so little knowledge and so few skills. I asked one woman (I'm not allowed to call her a girl) in her early twenties who didn't know what a percentage was. What she did do in maths at school? She said they talked about football and what was on television the previous night. So, newspapers can never really expect to have more than 80% readership and now we know why.

The Pedestrians' Association (UK) report that there are ten million accidents on dodgy pavements (sidewalks for my American readers) each year and that this is ten times more than there are on roads. This clearly shows that we should convert all pavements into roads which would both reduce accidents and reduce congestion.

The Christian Advertising Network has launched a campaign that claims that God has copyright over Christmas. CAN is supported by all the major Christian churches including Roman Catholic, Anglican, Baptist, Methodist and Free Churches (all of whom have different beliefs!). Spokesperson the Rev. Tom Ambrose said, "Christmas is ours and doesn't belong to the Wonder of Woolies or the Festival of Babycham or whatever". The Festival had, he said, been "hijacked by the high street". Well, maybe that's because they've been doing a much better job of promoting it. Apart from Christmas day itself, what do the churches have to offer in the run up. Not a lot. Snazzy ad campaigns don't work unless the product appeals. If they do want copyright, presumably God will put in a PA (personal appearance) to sign all the necessary paperwork. So, this is a ruse to persuade God to come out of hiding and prove He exists thus increasing the number of followers. Neat. But there could be objections from the pagans who actually invented the Festival to celebrate the turning point of the season so that they could be assured that the Sun would start to climb in the sky and they'd have some better weather to look forward to for their Summer holidays, and it was hijacked by the Christians. Incidentally, I saw my first Christmas promotion in the middle of August - a very large cardboard tree erected by a local hotel exhorting people to book their Christmas parties (is this a record?). Now how are the churches going to compete against that? Their product proposition is too negative - too much concentration on a guy who got killed 2,000 years ago, shouting at you for having a good time (sinning) and vague promises of lots of goodies in the future (after you're dead). Fine for masochists and guilt trippers, but not very appealing to most ordinary folk who want to party. A drop of communion wine just ain't going to cut it. Back to the drawing board lads.

The Department of Trade and Industry (UK) has asked scientists to construct a kind of Richter scale to assess risk as most people seem to worry about things which are very unlikely to happen and not fret about things which are more likely. For example in 1995, research into a new third generation contraceptive pill indicated that women who took it were twice as likely to develop potentially lethal bood clots. After the news was released, it was not surprising that many women were scared off the pill which resulted in 8,000 extra abortions and an unknown number of unplanned pregnancies where risks far exceeded the dangers of continuing with the pill which were estimated at two extra deaths per year (in the UK). The Royal Statistical Society would help with the construction of the scale. However, John Adams, a professor at University College London (England) is not convinced. For example, a young man is 100 times more likely to die in a road accident than a middle aged woman. Someone driving at 3 a.m. on a Sunday is 134 times more likely to die than soemone driving at 10 a.m. on a Sunday. Someone with a personality disorder is 10 times more likely and someone 2 1/2 times over the alcohol limit is 20 times more likely. So, one could predict, he says, that a disturbed drunken young man driving at 3 a.m. on a Sunday would be 2.7 million times more likely to die than a normal sober middle aged woman driving to church seven hours later. This would suggest that the population of the former group is likely to be low and the latter high which is good news for the church (see previous story), but bad news for alcoholic drinks manufacturers and psychiatrists. But at least you know who to watch out for and when. Are you one of those rock climbing, bungee jumping, smokers who drink bottled water on the grounds that it is safer than the stuff which comes from the tap (total crap)? Oh dear!

Check in again at my desk soon!

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