What’s in a name? Statistics can tell you…

Have you used statistics for your research? Want to know more about how to use them and which you can trust? Read on… By Helen Riley 

Did you know…?

  • In 2013 the most popular baby girl’s name in England and Wales was Amelia, and the most popular baby boy’s name  was Oliver – but if you take into account all the possible spellings of Mohammed the result might be different!
  • In 2013 it’s estimated that 41.4% of the English workforce in employment had a higher education qualification.

Statistics can give us a range of information, which can be useful for scientists, mathematicians and many social scientists, not forgetting historians. All of us may be influenced by statistics quoted in the press or by politicians, so how can you find the truth?

Governments, NGOs, pressure groups and companies all publish statistics but sometimes they may seem to contradict each other. If you need to compare social or economic data for different countries, try the website of an organisation such as the World Bank or the UN, which take care to make their data comparable.

Most Governments publish data from social and economic surveys and much of it is free – in the UK, try the Office for National Statistics website. As a rule of thumb, if data can make you rich, it is unlikely to be provided free of charge…

Pressure groups may not be entirely reliable, and some organisations are downright dodgy, so check what sources they have used, and see if they explain their methodology. Commercial companies offer to sell you data, but it may come from reliable free sources so why pay? You can check the Library databases list to see if we have already subscribed to the resource you need.

If you are not sure who to believe, or where to start, ask your academic support librarian!

Image: Statistics/Lendingmemo/CC BY 2.0

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