Riotstats – Issue 106 of Radical Statistics


Editorial – by Alastair Greig

The following is a reprint of the Editorial in the special issue of Radical Statistics: Riotstats.

The August disturbances, we are led to believe, brought out the “best” and “worst” of contemporary British society. It is not difficult to find a range of views on the causes and the most appropriate response to the rioting that followed the death of Mark Duggan in Tottenham, London, in the summer of 2011. In this issue of Radical Statistics a couple of articles question the statistical basis for making sweeping empirical claims about the riots. We also have a debate about causes of the riots, which mirrors the one which has taken place in the public domain. Ultimately, however, the statistics do not provide any simple answers, and it remains up to individual readers to decide upon the most compelling approach to understanding the cause and effect of these riots and to contribute to the analysis and dissemination of our understanding of these events.

Roger Ball and John Drury provide, in time-honored Radical Statistics style, a critical analysis of the way in which data have been used, particularly in the media and by politicians, to support various ideological interpretations of the disturbances. The article refrains from putting forward the authors’ own account of the causes of the riots, while providing a convincing account of the way in which dubious statistical evidence appears to have been used to promote narrow sectional and political interests.

Carly Lightowlers and Jon Shute, using the Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) and Manchester court records, show that individuals from deprived neighbourhoods were disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system as a result of the rioting. To Carly and Jon, the dominant narratives do “not acknowledge the structural roots of the problem or the counter-productivity of ‘get tough’ policies designed largely to appease voter’s concerns”.

Nigel Williams and Nick Cowen argue that the IMD should be disaggregated. Their analysis shows that not all forms of deprivation were associated with areas in which those ‘rioters’ charged were living. Nigel and Nick argue that although crimes were committed in part due to the deprivation-related incentives of the rioters, these would have been averted with a more conspicuous policing deterrent. This aspect of their analysis echoes similarly dispositional interpretations of the riots (Waiton, 2011), which Carly and Jon take to task in a rebuttal. Among other things, they argue that the “rational choice” explanation that Nigel and Nick present inhibits understanding of the myriad of plausible situational factors at work.

Janet Burja and Jenny Pearce recently authored Saturday Night & Sunday Morning: The 2001 Bradford Riot and Beyond, which documents years of work dedicated to making sense of the rioting that occurred in Bradford 10 years ago, and the legacy it has had on the city. Those riots had a particularly striking racial dimension, not entirely dissimilar to the August Riots and in other ways the participants were very similar to the more recent rioters. Janet argues that, in Bradford, local institutions – the police and local government – needed to recognise legitimate grievances of young, deprived individuals. Perhaps to the shock of some Radical Statisticians, Janet argues that statistical analyses have limitations in understanding, and developing responses to, such grievances.*

We are then left with a letter from Brian Quinn, which argues that the Radical Statistics overpopulation working group in its contribution to issue 105, has overlooked the ecological impact of having another child. This is followed by a brief response by the working group in which they address Brian’s points. The issue ends with news from the newly formed Reduced Statistics group.

Changes in Editorship
I would like to thank Janet Shapiro, who is standing down as editor. She had done a miraculous job as editor, and lately had taken on a hefty workload by herself. I am sure I am not alone in thanking her for the marvellous work she has done for Radical Statistics over the years. Rachel Cohen, from the University of Surrey, will take over from her and I am sure all our members look forward to her contributions in the months and years ahead.

Radical Statistics is a not-for-profit membership organisation, and our journal does not aspire to be exclusively academic. We look for contributions from all walks of life and, thanks to our diverse membership, offer a peer review service upon request. If you would
like to help review for the journal or contribute, feel free to contact any of the editors for further information. This year, we are particularly interested in receiving shorter articles from as wide a range of authors as possible. These may highlight the misuse of statistics or promote results, which may not be given a fair hearing in other settings.

Waiton, S. (2011). Wellfare Culture: the English Riots and the Collapse
of Authority. Journal of Scottish Affairs, 77, 54-78.

Mis-measurement of health and wealth: Radstats Conference & AGM, 24-25 Feb 2012, London

British Library logoFebruary is upon us! If you’ve not had the chance, please note that you can still book a space for the Radical Statistics conference to be held on Friday, February 24th 2012 at the British Library Conference Centre, followed by a half-day interactive workshop and AGM on Saturday 25th.

Don’t miss our challenging and engaging programme with talks on:

·       Measuring health – history and methods

·       Deception in medical research – scientific and regulatory failure

·       Deception in financial statistics – how this contributes to financial mayhem

Speakers:  Roy Carr-Hill, Val Saunders, Dr Aubrey Blumsohn, Prof. David Healy, Prof. Prem Sikka, Ann Pettifor, Prof. Allyson Pollock & Howard Reed.

Both days will provide a great opportunity to learn and discuss how misleading statistics are used to bolster political preferences and how difficult issues can be demystified with clear statistics.

All interested in research and statistics are welcome – the conference is neither technical nor limited to professional researchers.

Please find the programme and related information at, where you can make your booking now!

1967 Census of the West Bank and Gaza Strip: Digitized Tables

image of Shu'fat Refugee Camp

Shu’fat Refugee Camp by Decode Jerusalem on Flickr

In the summer of 1967, just after the Six-Day War brought the West Bank and Gaza Strip under Israel’s control, the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics conducted a census of the occupied territories. The resulting seven volumes of reports provide the earliest detailed description of this population, including crucial data about respondents’ 1948 refugee status.

In recent decades, these volumes of tables — over 300 tables in all — have received little or no attention from historians of the occupation, not least because it is not easy to use the reports in print form and in any case the volumes are not widely available even in good research libraries.

The Levy Economics Institute of Bard College is making the contents of these volumes available in machine-readable form for the first time, free of charge to anyone with access to the internet. The tables can be downloaded in Excel format for intensive research.

Many tables provide information cross-tabulated with several social characteristics at once (for example, education or occupation cross-tabulated with age, gender and refugee status) and presented for small geographic locales as well sub-totaled for regions.

Also, in conjunction with the Palestinian Authority’s censuses of 1997 and 2007 these tables help provide an understanding of trends over 40 years. We hope that the data can be exploited by researchers interested in a fuller understanding of the social history of the Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

For an overview of our project and to access the hundreds of tables contained in the 1967 Census database, go to
Feel free to circulate notice of this website to anyone who you think would be interested.
Joel Perlmann
Project Director
Levy Economics Institute of Bard College

Radstats 2012 Conference Announcement

Bookings are open for the Radical Statistics conference on February 24th 2012. This year we are hosted by the British Library and have a challenging programme on:

  • Measuring health – history and methods
  • Deception in medical research – scientific and regulatory failure
  • Deception in financial statistics – how this contributes to financial mayhem

This conference gives an opportunity to learn how misleading statistics are used to bolster political preferences and how difficult issues can be demystified with clear statistics.

All interested in research and statistics are welcome – the conference is neither technical nor limited to professional researchers. There are eight speakers and smaller group sessions, with lunch included.

The Radical Statistics AGM and activity debate will be on Saturday morning February 25th.

 Please pass on by email, print and distribute the
A4 flyer
advertising the programme, and visit the conference site at, where you can make your booking now!

Alistair Cairns,
Radical Statistics

Moral panic about overpopulation: the distracting campaign of Population Matters

Moral panic about overpopulation: the distracting campaign of Population Matters

—For Immediate Release —

28th October 2011

On the 31st October the world population will pass 7 billion. It is essential that evidence rather than myth informs the challenges and opportunities that such population growth presents.

Population Matters describe themselves as “the leading environmental charity and think-tank in the UK concerned with the impact of population growth on the environment”. The group have promoted their apocalyptic views of population in well funded media campaigns to mark the passing of 7 billion global population.

Radical Statistics’ Population group of UK demographers/population scientists and statisticians, have examined the claims and policy of Population Matters finding them guilty of frequent overstatement, rhetoric and one-sided assertion rather than evidence that population growth is the main cause of environmental threats. Like others concerned about overpopulation before them, Population Matters promote policies that erroneously focus on the groups who consume the least. The Radical Statistics group calls on high profile patrons of Population Matters to reconsider their support, including the naturalists and broadcasters David Attenborough and Chris Packham, environmental campaigner Jonathan Porritt, and senior academic and cultural figures.

Seven key myths that are promoted by Population Matters are summarised below:

Myth 1Population growth is increasing at an ever faster rate.Evidence

Current UN projections indicate slowing growth and a maximum world population that remains between 10.0 and 10.5 billion from 2083. In the UK levels of fertility are below the level required to replace the current population.


Myth 2Population causes resources to run out.Evidence

This myth has a long history; it has been expressed by Malthus, Plato, Aristotle and Tertullian, and many times since. Resources are not fixed or knowable; what is considered a resource changes over time. This myth overlooks the potential for human ingenuity to overcome problems, discover and use resources more efficiently. Historical evidence of steadily increasing population fed by successive productive revolutions demonstrates that a fixed human carrying capacity for planet earth is nonsense.


Myth 3More population means more environmental damage. 


The link between population growth and environmental damage is not supported by evidence. For example, there is a weak relationship between a country’s population growth and carbon emissions. The Royal Commission on Environmental Protection’s final report in 2011 found consumption and the impact associated with each unit of consumption more important than population in terms of environmental impact. Historical experience clearly shows that current population growth has not the prime driver of environmental degradation.


Myth 4The economic and social inequality experienced by women and their access to contraception are being ignored. Evidence

Improvement of women’s educational and economic conditions, and non-coercive facilitation of family planning throughout the world, are embodied in the Millennium Development Goals, although more efforts to empower women are needed.


Myth 5Population growth causes poverty by preventing development in poorer countries.Evidence

There is no empirical evidence for this claim. Poverty is recognised to be a result of inequality stemming from social factors rather than population size. For example, globally, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation, farmers produce more than the necessary nutrition requirement to feed the world population. This supports views that not limited world resources but the unequal distribution of resources mainly explains the current poverty and hunger problems in the world.


Myth 6Reducing teenage pregnancies will reduce the population of the UK (a policy advocated by Population Matters). 


Teenage births represent only 7% of all births and births to young women below the age of 18 and around 2% of all births in 2008. Reducing teenage pregnancy would very likely have little impact on population size especially as many teenagers would simply delay having children to a later date.


Myth 7Reduction of migration is needed to reduce the impact of population on the environment (a policy advocated by Population Matters).Evidence

The Royal Commission on the Protection of Environment (2011) found no case for further controls to regulate non-EU migration on environmental grounds. Any policies on migration will have no direct impact on population size. Population Matters are keen to restrict immigration to the UK but do not encourage migration away from the UK to less populated regions. Restricting non-EU migration to the UK might well lead to greater world population in the future as research suggests migrants to the UK from developing countries tend to have lower birth rates than the country they came from.


For more detail on the critique of Population Matters see the paper ‘Moral panic about overpopulation: a distracting campaign?’ by the Radical Statistics Population Studies group available at:

Dr Alan Marshall is the contact for Radical Statistics Population Studies Group on this matter and is available for comment on Friday 28th October 2011:



Editorial: ‘The cuts’ (Radical Statistics issue 103)

From Radical Statistics 103, published November 2010. Available online: February 2011.Fat man leaning on thin man saying We're all having to  tighten our belts.

Since they came to power, the Coalition Government has been reshaping official statistics so as to tell a story. Part of that story is how Britain was brought to ruin. Over the past decade, economic growth in the UK has been driven by the accumulation of unsustainable levels of private sector debt and rising public sector debt. This pattern of unbalanced growth and excessive debt has helped create the exceptional economic and fiscal challenges that the Government must address …1

Part of the story is the attribution of responsibility for the problems to the public sector. Over the last decade, the UK’s economy became unbalanced, and relied on unsustainable public spending and rising levels of public debt. 2 Part is how welfare dependency has grown. We need to address the high and increasing costs of welfare dependency. There are now nearly five million working-age people receiving the main out-of-work benefits. 3

This leads to the conclusion that the deficit must be tackled by curbing dependency. The Spending Review makes choices. Particular focus has been given to reducing welfare costs and wasteful spending. 4

Radical Statistics has always been concerned at the extent to which official statistics reflect governmental rather than social purposes. At every stage of the narrative, the evidence has been distorted. The UK public debt, as a percentage of GDP is less than in Germany. France, the USA and in many periods of the UK‟s own history. The public debt was incurred, not because of the expansion of the public sector, but to save the banks, and the economy. The growth in benefit expenditure reflects the extension of entitlements for older people, increasing unemployment and responses to disability. The statistical presentation is often questionable. This extraordinary graph – the third circle is more than double the size of the first – comes from The State of the Nation, published by the Cabinet Office: claimants have increased by over 40% since 1997, from 1.2 million to 1.8 million.

circles showing increasing claimant numbers from 1997 to 2009

Figure 3.1: The numbers of working-age Disability Living Allowance claimants have increased by over 40% since 1997, from 1.2 million to 1.8 million

The government’s claim to be giving priority to deficit reduction is inconsistent with its limited emphasis on taxation. John Grieve Smith points to an alternative of increasing tax income, from VAT, income tax, inheritance tax and corporation tax, which has reduced in the UK from 33% to 28% during the time of the Labour administration.

Stewart Lansley cogently argues for action to limit the rising concentration of wealth at the top. This raises the concern that the central focus is not the reduction of the deficit, but rolling back the frontiers of the state. One aspect of the government strategy that is
hard to quantify is the privatisation of services (to those who can afford a profitable price). Radical Statistics has received a request from the public sector union UNISON for help with quantifying the impact on services of privatisation: please contact with your willingness to work with them.

The papers in this special issue examine some of the key propositions in the government’s analysis. Stewart Lansley looks at the history of the crash; John Grieve Smith and Richard Exell, at the economics and the public sector; and Paul Spicker at spending on welfare. Other papers are concerned with the impact of these measures on the people they affect: Tim Horton and Howard Reed consider the distributional implications of the cuts, Alan Franco the local impact of benefit cuts, Jay Ginn pensions and support for older people, and Robert Moore the effects on Wales.

Paul Spicker and Ludi Simpson, Guest Editors

1 HM Treasury (2010) Budget 2010, HC61,
2 Cm 7942 (2010) Spending Review 2010, London: HM Treasury, p 6
3 Cm 7913 (2010) 21st Century Welfare, London: DWP, p 4.
4 Spending Review 2010

Break-up of NHS to hurt poorest households

The NHS currently provides on average about 2,250 pounds of free health services to the poorest 10 percent of UK households (who often have the greatest health needs). Last week’s editorial in the Lancet predicting ‘the catastrophic break up of the NHS’ is therefore of particular concern for everybody, but most of all for the poorest households in England.

Contributed by Dave Gorman