Collection of letters by codebreaker Alan Turing found in filing cabinet

The correspondence, dating from 1949 to 1954, was found by an academic in a storeroom at the University of Manchester

A lost collection of nearly 150 letters from the codebreaker Alan Turing has been uncovered in an old filing cabinet at the University of Manchester.

The correspondence, which has not seen the light of day for at least 30 years, contains very little about Turings tortured personal life. It does, however, give an intriguing insight into his views on America.

In response to an invitation to speak at a conference in the US in April 1953, Turing replied that he would rather not attend: I would not like the journey, and I detest America.

The letter, sent to Donald Mackay, a physicist at Kings College London, does not give any further explanation for Turings forthright views on America, nor do these views feature in any of the other 147 letters discovered earlier this year.

The correspondence, dating from early 1949 to Turings death in 1954, was found by chance when an academic cleared out an old filing cabinet in a storeroom at the University of Manchester. Turing was deputy director of the universitys computing laboratory from 1948, after his heroic wartime codebreaking at Bletchley Park.

Turing was a visionary mathematician and is regarded today as the father of modern computing who broke the Nazis second world war Enigma code. While his later life has been overshadowed by his conviction for gross indecency and his death aged 41 from cyanide poisoning, a posthumous pardon was granted by the Queen in 2013. His life was featured in the 2014 film the Imitation Game.

Prof Jim Miles, of the universitys school of computer science, said he was amazed to stumble upon the documents, contained in an ordinary-looking red paper file with Alan Turing scrawled on it.

When I first found it I initially thought: That cant be what I think it is, but a quick inspection showed it was a file of old letters and correspondence by Alan Turing, he said.

I was astonished such a thing had remained hidden out of sight for so long. No one who now works in the school or at the university knew they even existed. It really was an exciting find and it is mystery as to why they had been filed away.

The collection focuses mainly on Turings academic research, including his work on groundbreaking areas in AI, computing and mathematics, and invitations to lecture at some of Americas best-known universities including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

It contains a single letter from GCHQ, for whom Turing worked during the war, asking the mathematician in 1952 if he could supply a photograph of himself for an official history of Bletchley Park that was being compiled by the American cryptographer William Friedman. In his reply to Eric Jones, GCHQs then director, Turing said he would send a picture for the American rogues gallery.

The collection also contains a handwritten draft BBC radio programme on artificial intelligence, titled Can machines think? from July 1951. The documents were sorted, catalogued and stored by the University of Manchester archivist James Peters and are now available to search online.

Peters said: This is a truly unique find. Archive material relating to Turing is extremely scarce, so having some of his academic correspondence is a welcome and important addition to our collection.

There is very little in the way of personal correspondence, and no letters from Turing family members. But this still gives us an extremely interesting account and insight into his working practices and academic life whilst he was at the University of Manchester.

He added: The letters mostly confirm what is already known about Turings work at Manchester, but they do add an extra dimension to our understanding of the man himself and his research.

As there is so little actual archive on this period of his life, this is a very important find in that context. There really is nothing else like it.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/aug/27/collection-letters-codebreaker-alan-turing-found-filing-cabinet

Theresa May buys time with apology to Tory MPs over election mess

Beleaguered PM is contrite and genuine in crunch meeting with 1922 Committee, promising to build consensus on Brexit

A contrite Theresa May bought herself time with Conservatives MPs by apologising for failing to secure an overall majority, while cabinet sources indicated that the prime minister would pursue a more conciliatory approach on Brexit to shore up her leadership.

May addressed a packed session of her partys backbench 1922 Committee on Tuesday with what was described as an upfront mea culpa. She declared: I got us into this mess, and Im going to get us out of it.

Senior insiders added that one of the ideas actively being considered to win backing across parliament was not to major on the controversial no deal is better than a bad deal position taken by May before the election.

Also under consideration is whether to exclude overseas students from the immigration numbers and even possibly to abandon the target to reduce immigration to the tens of thousands. Although nothing has been agreed, any softening of the position on immigration could maximise the chance of a closer economic relationship with the EU.

May also admitted that the manifesto promise to make people pay more for their social care had been a mistake and said there would be no weakening of LGBT rights as the Tories attempted to secure an electoral pact on Tuesday with the socially conservative Democratic Unionist party.

The prime minister said more would be done to reach out to young voters and those working in the public sector. She was contrite and genuine, but not on her knees, said one senior MP who attended the meeting, adding that May had shown a warmer side. There was none of the Maybot, the person added, claiming that any talk of a leadership challenge had been silenced, for now at least.

Speaking after the meeting, MPs made clear that the prime minister had bought herself time with hopes that she could make it to the end of Brexit talks in two years.

A cabinet member admitted that work was under way on how to achieve a deal with the EU27 that could pass through a much more finely balanced parliament, involving seeking areas of compromise with other parties. Reports in the Telegraph and Evening Standard claimed that secret talks had already begun between cabinet ministers and some Labour MPs.

Any shift in tone will be seen as a coup for advocates of a soft Brexit, although those who campaigned to leave the EU are also offering their support to the prime minister.

Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, who has won more influence after the party took 13 seats in Scotland, said she was pushing for an open Brexit with maximum economic access after a private meeting with May in Downing Street. Davidson added that the party needed to reach out: I do think that there can be changes in the offer of Brexit as we go forward.

Downing Street is also preparing to put forward a skeleton version of a Queens speech, as the parliamentary mathematics threatens to bring domestic policymaking to a halt unless the Tories reach out to opposition parties.

The annual list of legislation, which may be delayed from 19 June, will have two big-ticket items of Brexit and counter-terrorism policy, but see most of the domestic agenda ditched, according to one source. Mays plans for a sweeping shakeup of education including new grammar schools could be boiled down to a few pilots, they said.

However, despite jitters within the party and suggestions that Mays days are numbered, her performance in front of the 1922 Committee appeared to reduce anger about the shock result. After the vote stripped the Conservatives of their majority and plunged the government into instability and the need for coalition talks with the DUP, Heidi Allen, the MP for South Cambridgeshire, said the prime minister would be gone within six months.

However, after the 1922 meeting, Allen who has fought her own party over disability benefit cuts and tough positioning on Brexit said: I saw an incredibly humble woman who knows what she has to do, and that is be who she is and not what this job had turned her into. She has lost her armadillo shell and we have got a leader back.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan, the Conservative MP for Berwick-upon-Tweed, who has been an outspoken proponent of Brexit, said: It was very positive to hear her take very firm responsibility for not being able to crystallise some of the seats wed hoped to win. I felt she had very deeply considered over the weekend whether she should continue and came to us to say: I will continue for as long as you want me to do so. And I think thats exactly what we all hoped she would say.

MPs said there was a tacit acceptance of the need to build a better consensus. A broader backing for Brexit has to be built and I think she recognises that, one former minister said. She was clear she was responsible. She agreed on the need to listen to all the wings of the party on Brexit.

One remainer on the left of the party was teary-eyed as they expressed their renewed support for the prime minister, while a hardline Brexiter agreed, describing her as very, very humble and saying: She has bought herself time. She showed a side of her that was very appealing. A warmer side.

At the centre of the debate were concerns about the manifesto. MPs admitted that it had been a disaster with voters, particularly the so-called dementia tax and the decision to press ahead with school funding cuts. Public sector workers felt very strongly about austerity, a former cabinet minister said. We have to offer a message of aspiration, which is a very Conservative word.

Jeremy Corbyns massive gains with public sector workers appear to have driven anti-austerity into the centre of political debate, even among Conservatives. May acknowledged several warnings from MPs who described meeting people who said they could not vote Tory because of cuts to hospitals, schools or failure to increase public sector wages in real terms.

Anna Soubry told the Guardian it had been an issue she repeatedly encountered on the doorstep. Writing in a local newsletter, she added: We need a kinder Conservatism that recognises the very real concerns about reduced school budgets, a shortfall in NHS and social care funding, and that some of our most valued public servants such as nurses, have had their wages cut.

Others argued that it was OK for the Tories to keep their position but that they had failed to make the economic argument during the campaign. Soubry said it was outrageous that the chancellor, Philip Hammond, had not been given a bigger role in the campaign.

Several MPs told May they had had difficulties rebutting questions over school funding on doorsteps and in local hustings. May said that Justine Greening would address the concerns, and sources stressed that the education secretary had been making the case for better funding for schools for some time.

Tories banged on the tables for about 30 seconds as May arrived for the crunch meeting in a roasting hot room packed with members of the House of Lords as well as MPs. May took questions, but one MP described them as more like speeches.

There was no appetite for a leadership election, the MP said. Thats the last thing the country needs. She said she would serve us as long as we want her, and that shes been a party servant since she was 12 years old, stuffing envelopes.

MPs were pleased that the prime minister had removed her joint chiefs of staff, Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy, as she pointed instead to her new top aide, the former Tory MP Gavin Barwell, and the chief whip, Gavin Williamson. One MP said that the party had faith in the two Gavins.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/jun/12/theresa-may-apologies-backbenchers-election-mess

Whats next for the womens movement?

After the success of the Womens March, its International Womens Day on Wednesday 8 March. Here, 15 influential women, from Lena Dunham and Nicola Sturgeon to Susie Orbach, nominate a crucial next step towards equality

Lena Dunham: keep on protesting

I think the activism and organisation thats happening now is showing protest matters, calling your representatives matters, becoming involved in community organisations matters, sending your donations every month matters. It has never mattered more to show up with your money, with your body, with your time and with your voice than it does right now. Lots of people had valid criticisms of the Womens March, but it was the largest global protest weve seen and thats because every single person made the choice to take time off work, to give of themselves, to give their bodies and fill space and show they wanted to say no. That scares people and even if right now were not seeing the result we want, the government has been warned. They understand they are not supported. They are fighting an uphill battle against women and allies of equality in all of its forms.
Lena Dunham is an actor, writer, producer and director

Nicola Sturgeon: great childcare is where it starts

Its a source of frustration that, decades on from legislation that was supposed to pave the way for equality of the sexes, too many gaps remain. I have made equality a key feature of my government, with a gender-balanced cabinet, one of very few in the developed world.

However, if there is one specific policy area which can permanently advance the cause of gender equality, I believe the answer lies not in the workplace itself, but in the early years. Delivering high quality childcare as widely as possible is, I believe, fundamental to achieving the kind of equal society that empowers women.

It is a simple fact that, for many women, the barrier to career advancement comes when they are faced with juggling the competing demands of a job and raising a family. And in too many cases, the lack of adequate childcare becomes a decisive factor in preventing women from continuing their careers.

Improving access and affordability in childcare is not an easy challenge and of itself will not solve all gender equality issues. But it is a challenge which must be met if we are to deliver a society which truly has equality of opportunity for men and women.
Nicola Sturgeon MSP is First Minister of Scotland

Signs
Signs of the times: protesters on the Womens March in London take a breather. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Naheed Farid: introduce bottom to top economic development

I represent women in the Afghanistan parliament, in a country that is one of the worst places to live as a woman. We suffer from violence, insecurity and lack of access to basic rights, such as education and health. We tried many things, such as investing in civil society organisations, education and democratic processes, but still Afghanistan stays the same. My analysis is that in order to ensure womens rights and equality in Afghanistan, and generally all around the world, we need to involve women in the production process, empowering women economically. We also need policies to make sure that the process of development is bottom to top, completely the opposite of what is practised right now. Womens inclusion in political, economic and social aspects of development can stabilise society by consistently empowering women and involving them in high-level decision-making processes.
Naheed Farid was elected MP in 2010 at the age of 27

Nomboniso Gasa: civil action to defend our freedom from misogynistic world leaders

As I watched Donald Trumps inauguration, I noticed something familiar in the body language between him and Melania. My mind flipped back to President Jacob Zumas inauguration in 2009. He didnt even look back to see whether his wife was comfortable. She trotted behind, with shoes that were too big for her. She could have tripped and he would not have noticed.

People have written about Trump and Zumas disdain for the judiciary, the constitution, media and civil liberties. But they are similar in other ways, including their public devaluing of women. Trumps tape about women throwing themselves at you, if you are famous, reminded me of Zumas statement when accused of rape. I am not afraid of women. They are attracted to me. Why would I rape? Zuma must be envying Trump, though. He is unable to reverse the Constitutional Court decision enabling women to make choices about reproductive rights, bodily integrity and freedom of choice. His ANC is unlikely to garner enough votes to change the Bill of Rights.

Contesting these men requires a careful unmasking of their devious narratives, combined with civic action in defence of our freedoms. This must be a well-planned and sustained struggle against misogynistic bullies.
Nomboniso Gasa is a South African researcher, writer and analyst on land, politics, gender and cultural issues

Laura Bates: sex and relationships education for all schoolchildren

There is a single, clear action that experts agree could make a substantial difference. For the past decade, campaigners, teachers, parents and pupils alike have urged successive governments to implement compulsory sex and relationships education (SRE) for all young people, including topics such as consent, healthy relationships, pornography, gender stereotypes and LGBT rights and relationships. Schools are currently only obliged to teach the biological basics of reproduction by the age of 15, with no compulsory coverage of issues, such as consent.

This would help protect vulnerable children who may already be experiencing sexual abuse. It would create change for the many girls who report unwanted sexual touching a form of sexual assault. And, by educating young people about their rights and responsibilities, it could have an impact on the broader problem of sexual violence. With 85,000 women raped annually and two women per week killed by a current or former partner in England and Wales, this is an urgent priority.

We know that young people today face a bombardment of influences, from sexting to pornography. If we teach children how to read maps so they can find their way, and how to do maths so they can work out their change in a shop, why do we leave them shockingly ill-equipped to navigate sexual relationships, a similarly universal life experience? With 43% of young people reporting they dont receive any SRE at all, we are failing them and letting wider society down as well.
Laura Bates is founder of the Everyday Sexism Project

Join
Join the gang: women hold hands and share personal stories during the Dress Like A Woman rally and march, held to support womens rights and to protest against Donald Trump, in Seattle. Photograph: David Ryder/Reuters

Anne-Marie Imafidon: more women in science and tech jobs reflected in TV soaps

Ive always watched a lot of TV and when I was younger watched EastEnders. As an east Londoner it felt close enough to reality that I would get excited when they filmed on location trying to point out landmarks and guess the road. Soaps dont fully reflect reality, but they do try to stay current. These days most characters have a mobile phone and technology sometimes features in storylines.

In the battle for gender equality Id like to see the soaps embrace some new careers for their characters particularly the female ones.

Wheres Dot?

Oh, shes just taking air quality measurements in the square for her PhD thesis, shell meet us at the Queen Vic.

Normalising science and tech-related careers can start with a female character or two deciding to leave work at the chippy for a job at a digital start-up. Someone in Hollyoaks might strike up an affair with someone theyve met on an evening coding course (affairs happen all the time on soaps). Seeing these characters have breakfast, and fight with family while enjoying science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem) careers will work against the one-sided portrayals of Stem characters that we see in films and on TV. The small screen can do what Hollywood is beginning to do with films, like Hidden Figures the story of African-American women who helped Nasa.
Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE campaigns to get women into science, technology, engineering and maths

Li Maizi: create an international force against the censoring of womens voices

The answer for me is chasing gender equality in China. It has become my daily life, making noises against all the discrimination. And when we meet the backlash, we have to stand together and fight back. As a woman, I have no country: my country is the whole world. So I will also criticise Donald Trump, who is a straight man cancer.

In China, the space for civil movement is becoming more narrow. One of the most powerful Weibo [Chinas Twitter] accounts, Feminism Voice, has been blocked for publishing an article about the planned womens strike against Trump in the US. Thus, no single issue belongs to one country, we must fight together against the censoring of womens voices.
Li Maizi is one of Chinas feminist five, detained for more than a month in 2015 for organising a protest against sexual harassment on buses and subways

Catherine Mayer: champion more shared parenting

Theres no single fix because the mechanisms keeping women down are intertwined. However, one of the seven core objectives of the Womens Equality Party equal parenting and caregiving is capable on its own of creating huge change. If we can shake the idea that childcare is primarily a mothers responsibility, if we learn to value the unpaid labour now primarily undertaken by women, then we also unpick some of the causes of the gender pay gap. There are also ways to speed the process. In 1975, when 90% of Icelandic women left jobs and homes for the day, their male compatriots learned just how much women do. Iceland now ranks as the worlds most gender-equal country. Im helping to organise a Womens Day Off in the UK next year.
Catherine Mayer is the co-founder of the Womens Equality Party and author of Attack of the Fifty Foot Women: How Gender Equality Can Save the World!

Magic
Magic circle: protesters chant against gender-based violence at their camp on La Puerta del Sol square in Madrid, Spain. Photograph: EPA

Stella Creasy: dont be a click-avist, get stuck in

The change we need to make is mobilisation. We have to sound the alarm. The worst thing we can do is despair. My message is, dont stand aside, get stuck in. Dont be a click-avist. Keep asking: What next? If you go on a march and think: Thats the job done, they win. A backlash is a reaction, so we have to keep taking action. I keep saying to people, I adore Martin Luther King, but he was wrong when he said: The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards progress. It doesnt, unless you fight for it.
Stella Creasy is MP for Walthamstow. Join her Feminist Action Network (
stella@workingforwalthamstow.org.uk)

Liv Little: economic autonomy for women of colour

The face of feminism Im surrounded by is young and fresh. Feminism has the potential to be a bright, vibrant movement. But its difficult. There are so many pressing issues for women. Whats really important is economic empowerment. I think as a woman of colour its important that we are running our own businesses, able to support each other and generating our own income to support other young women of colour who are coming up in the world. As a black female graduate youre likely to earn a lot less than your white male counterparts. Youre increasingly seeing women of colour in positions of power, but there are still not enough of us in prominent positions.
Liv Little is editor-in-chief at gal-dem

Caitlin Moran: embrace our weakness and silliness

You know what make us strong? All the things you think are a hindrance. Our strength is our weakness. Our love of silly things to wear. Our love of jokes. On the Womens March, there were millions of weak women with buggies, with elderly relatives women who are disabled, or from minority groups wearing pink hats and holding placards. And our strength is, you cant send armed police into a crowd like that. Theres no way to spin that footage. You cant pretend its violent, radical extremists. Theres no excuse to break it up. The weaker, sillier and funnier we are, the more impossible it is to demonise us, or stop us, as so many protests have been stopped and demonised before. As things go backwards, we think: We cant fight this, and the answer is we mustnt fight it.

Fighting is how its always been done before. They know how to stop fighters. But these old, white, straight, angry men? They dont know how to stop joy, humour, knitted pink hats and buggies. We are the force theyve never seen before. They have nothing in their box to counter this. This is our strength. And we have it in endless amounts. We are the 52%. And we can knit and joke the fuck out of the revolution.
Caitlin Moran is an author and columnist

Stepping
Stepping up: women on the march in Montevideo, Uruguay. Photograph: Raul Martinez/EPA

Susie Orbach: defeat the merchants of body hatred

In a time of threat, the places we might be able to call home, our bodies, are being ripped apart by commercial pressures. They bear down on labias (too messy), faces (too tired), lips (too small), eyes (too hooded), breasts (too small, droopy or large) For each of these crazy designations, there are surgeries sold as empowering, sold as safe, sold as solutions. But whats the problem and who is generating it? Control girls and womens bodies whether by the purveyors of beauty, the cultural enforcers of female genital cutting, the anti-choice gang in the White House and insecurity is induced. Give girls as young as three cosmetic surgery games that divert their dreaming and imaginative energy into pursuits that hurt what it means to be a girl, and you ensure big profits and big body preoccupations for a lifetime. Its time to dare to feel OK in our bodies as they age and change.
Susie Orbach is a psychotherapist, analyst and writer

Paris Lees: real feminism excludes nobody

If your push for social justice excludes women of colour or disabled women, trans women, sex workers, Muslims, Jews, poor people you dont want equality, you want privilege. Promoting women of the same class and colour while ignoring and speaking over women less privileged than yourself isnt feminism. Its supremacism. I come from a mixed-race family. I like to think I know a little bit about racism. But Im not black. So I listen. I follow feminists from minority backgrounds on social media: Reni Eddo-Lodge, Nesrine Malik, Janet Mock, Phyll Opoku-Gyimah, Fatima Manji, Roxane Gay. Most women voted for Hillary in the US election, but a significant proportion white women without a college degree voted for Trump. In the end, their votes swung it. This is what can happen when women dont pull together. So lets pull together. Fascism is back. Women are leading the resistance, but if we really want decency to prevail, its time to revive another idea from the mists of time: solidarity.
Paris Lees is a journalist and transgender rights activist

Getting
Getting the message: a wall of signs outside the White House in Washington. Photograph: John Minchillo/AP

Mariella Frostrup: include boys in the conversation

Ive been a feminist since my lungs first filled with air, but Im weary of war and eager for a coalition. In my small corner of the western world its hard to find a man who doesnt believe his daughter, his wife, his sister, his mother or his colleagues to be his equal, yet we continue to mark out our battle lines on a gendered basis. No social revolution in the history of mankind has succeeded without the participation of both sexes so its time to invite the guys aboard. Instead of car ads that accept a woman can control a vehicle (doh!) Im more hopeful for one that entices a man to try a vacuum cleaner. Our ability to participate in a mans world is beyond dispute, but the jurys still out on our success in enticing men into what was once our domain. The proportion of women doing the worlds unpaid work has barely changed. The only difference is that most women today are holding down two jobs. It is stress levels, not our incomes, that are rising. Expectations of both sexes have changed beyond measure and the conversation needs to stop being so one-sided, which is why weve set up Great Men, opening conversations with boys in secondary schools exploring masculinity and gender issues. If we want to eradicate misogyny, we need to make sure boys are given the support and emotional investment they need.
Mariella Frostrup is a broadcaster, columnist and co-founder of the Great Initiative

Lisa Randall: end the fear women feel

An issue for women throughout the world that is implicitly played down by lack of adequate attention is fear. The topic is broad and the specifics are difficult to address through existing systems, but whether it is physical violence, online stalking, harassment, or unwanted encounters at work or in schools, women are prevented from living their best possible lives and from contributing in the most significant ways. Current systems address only very explicit danger. Even when the attacks are merely upsetting, the resultant loss of diverse voices online and elsewhere because of womens reluctance to be subject to insults or insinuations, is a loss to us all.
Lisa Randall is professor of science at Harvard University

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/05/whats-next-for-the-womens-movement-march-equality

Robert Mercer: the big data billionaire waging war on mainstream media

With links to Donald Trump, Steve Bannon and Nigel Farage, the rightwing American computer scientist is at the heart of a multimillion-dollar propaganda network

Just over a week ago, Donald Trump gathered members of the worlds press before him and told them they were liars. The press, honestly, is out of control, he said. The public doesnt believe you any more. CNN was described as very fake news story after story is bad. The BBC was another beauty.

That night I did two things. First, I typed Trump in the search box of Twitter. My feed was reporting that he was crazy, a lunatic, a raving madman. But that wasnt how it was playing out elsewhere. The results produced a stream of Go Donald!!!!, and You show em!!! There were star-spangled banner emojis and thumbs-up emojis and clips of Trump laying into the FAKE news MSM liars!

Trump had spoken, and his audience had heard him. Then I did what Ive been doing for two and a half months now. I Googled mainstream media is And there it was. Googles autocomplete suggestions: mainstream media is dead, dying, fake news, fake, finished. Is it dead, I wonder? Has FAKE news won? Are we now the FAKE news? Is the mainstream media we, us, I dying?

I click Googles first suggested link. It leads to a website called CNSnews.com and an article: The Mainstream media are dead. Theyre dead, I learn, because they we, I cannot be trusted. How had it, an obscure site Id never heard of, dominated Googles search algorithm on the topic? In the About us tab, I learn CNSnews is owned by the Media Research Center, which a click later I learn is Americas media watchdog, an organisation that claims an unwavering commitment to neutralising leftwing bias in the news, media and popular culture.

Another couple of clicks and I discover that it receives a large bulk of its funding more than $10m in the past decade from a single source, the hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer. If you follow US politics you may recognise the name. Robert Mercer is the money behind Donald Trump. But then, I will come to learn, Robert Mercer is the money behind an awful lot of things. He was Trumps single biggest donor. Mercer started backing Ted Cruz, but when he fell out of the presidential race he threw his money $13.5m of it behind the Trump campaign.

Its money hes made as a result of his career as a brilliant but reclusive computer scientist. He started his career at IBM, where he made what the Association for Computational Linguistics called revolutionary breakthroughs in language processing a science that went on to be key in developing todays AI and later became joint CEO of Renaissance Technologies, a hedge fund that makes its money by using algorithms to model and trade on the financial markets.

One of its funds, Medallion, which manages only its employees money, is the most successful in the world generating $55bn so far. And since 2010, Mercer has donated $45m to different political campaigns all Republican and another $50m to non-profits all rightwing, ultra-conservative. This is a billionaire who is, as billionaires are wont, trying to reshape the world according to his personal beliefs.

Donald
Donald Trumps presidential campaigned received $13.5m from Robert Mercer. Photograph: Timothy A Clary/AFP/Getty Images

Robert Mercer very rarely speaks in public and never to journalists, so to gauge his beliefs you have to look at where he channels his money: a series of yachts, all called Sea Owl; a $2.9m model train set; climate change denial (he funds a climate change denial thinktank, the Heartland Institute); and what is maybe the ultimate rich mans plaything the disruption of the mainstream media. In this he is helped by his close associate Steve Bannon, Trumps campaign manager and now chief strategist. The money he gives to the Media Research Center, with its mission of correcting liberal bias is just one of his media plays. There are other bigger, and even more deliberate strategies, and shining brightly, the star at the centre of the Mercer media galaxy, is Breitbart.

It was $10m of Mercers money that enabled Bannon to fund Breitbart a rightwing news site, set up with the express intention of being a Huffington Post for the right. It has launched the careers of Milo Yiannopoulos and his like, regularly hosts antisemitic and Islamophobic views, and is currently being boycotted by more than 1,000 brands after an activist campaign. It has been phenomenally successful: the 29th most popular site in America with 2bn page views a year. Its bigger than its inspiration, the Huffington Post, bigger, even, than PornHub. Its the biggest political site on Facebook. The biggest on Twitter.

Prominent rightwing journalist Andrew Breitbart, who founded the site but died in 2012, told Bannon that they had to take back the culture. And, arguably, they have, though American culture is only the start of it. In 2014, Bannon launched Breitbart London, telling the New York Times it was specifically timed ahead of the UKs forthcoming election. It was, he said, the latest front in our current cultural and political war. France and Germany are next.

But there was another reason why I recognised Robert Mercers name: because of his connection to Cambridge Analytica, a small data analytics company. He is reported to have a $10m stake in the company, which was spun out of a bigger British company called SCL Group. It specialises in election management strategies and messaging and information operations, refined over 25 years in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan. In military circles this is known as psyops psychological operations. (Mass propaganda that works by acting on peoples emotions.)

Cambridge Analytica worked for the Trump campaign and, so Id read, the Leave campaign. When Mercer supported Cruz, Cambridge Analytica worked with Cruz. When Robert Mercer started supporting Trump, Cambridge Analytica came too. And where Mercers money is, Steve Bannon is usually close by: it was reported that until recently he had a seat on the board.

Last December, I wrote about Cambridge Analytica in a piece about how Googles search results on certain subjects were being dominated by rightwing and extremist sites. Jonathan Albright, a professor of communications at Elon University, North Carolina, who had mapped the news ecosystem and found millions of links between rightwing sites strangling the mainstream media, told me that trackers from sites like Breitbart could also be used by companies like Cambridge Analytica to follow people around the web and then, via Facebook, target them with ads.

On its website, Cambridge Analytica makes the astonishing boast that it has psychological profiles based on 5,000 separate pieces of data on 220 million American voters its USP is to use this data to understand peoples deepest emotions and then target them accordingly. The system, according to Albright, amounted to a propaganda machine.

A few weeks later, the Observer received a letter. Cambridge Analytica was not employed by the Leave campaign, it said. Cambridge Analytica is a US company based in the US. It hasnt worked in British politics.

Which is how, earlier this week, I ended up in a Pret a Manger near Westminster with Andy Wigmore, Leave.EUs affable communications director, looking at snapshots of Donald Trump on his phone. It was Wigmore who orchestrated Nigel Farages trip to Trump Tower the PR coup that saw him become the first foreign politician to meet the president elect.

Wigmore scrolls through the snaps on his phone. Thats the one I took, he says pointing at the now globally famous photo of Farage and Trump in front of his golden elevator door giving the thumbs-up sign. Wigmore was one of the bad boys of Brexit a term coined by Arron Banks, the Bristol-based businessman who was Leave.EUs co-founder.

Cambridge Analytica had worked for them, he said. It had taught them how to build profiles, how to target people and how to scoop up masses of data from peoples Facebook profiles. A video on YouTube shows one of Cambridge Analyticas and SCLs employees, Brittany Kaiser, sitting on the panel at Leave.EUs launch event.

Facebook was the key to the entire campaign, Wigmore explained. A Facebook like, he said, was their most potent weapon. Because using artificial intelligence, as we did, tells you all sorts of things about that individual and how to convince them with what sort of advert. And you knew there would also be other people in their network who liked what they liked, so you could spread. And then you follow them. The computer never stops learning and it never stops monitoring.

Steve
Steve Bannon, Donald Trumps chief strategist, is an associate of Robert Mercer. Photograph: Evan Vucci/AP

It sounds creepy, I say.

It is creepy! Its really creepy! Its why Im not on Facebook! I tried it on myself to see what information it had on me and I was like, Oh my God! Whats scary is that my kids had put things on Instagram and it picked that up. It knew where my kids went to school.

They hadnt employed Cambridge Analytica, he said. No money changed hands. They were happy to help.

Why?

Because Nigel is a good friend of the Mercers. And Robert Mercer introduced them to us. He said, Heres this company we think may be useful to you. What they were trying to do in the US and what we were trying to do had massive parallels. We shared a lot of information. Why wouldnt you? Behind Trumps campaign and Cambridge Analytica, he said, were the same people. Its the same family.

There were already a lot of questions swirling around Cambridge Analytica, and Andy Wigmore has opened up a whole lot more. Such as: are you supposed to declare services-in-kind as some sort of donation? The Electoral Commission says yes, if it was more than 7,500. And was it declared? The Electoral Commission says no. Does that mean a foreign billionaire had possibly influenced the referendum without that influence being apparent? Its certainly a question worth asking.

In the last month or so, articles in first the Swiss and the US press have asked exactly what Cambridge Analytica is doing with US voters data. In a statement to the Observer, the Information Commissioners Office said: Any business collecting and using personal data in the UK must do so fairly and lawfully. We will be contacting Cambridge Analytica and asking questions to find out how the company is operating in the UK and whether the law is being followed.

Cambridge Analytica said last Friday they are in touch with the ICO and are completely compliant with UK and EU data laws. It did not answer other questions the Observer put to it this week about how it built its psychometric model, which owes its origins to original research carried out by scientists at Cambridge Universitys Psychometric Centre, research based on a personality quiz on Facebook that went viral. More than 6 million people ended up doing it, producing an astonishing treasure trove of data.

These Facebook profiles especially peoples likes could be correlated across millions of others to produce uncannily accurate results. Michal Kosinski, the centres lead scientist, found that with knowledge of 150 likes, their model could predict someones personality better than their spouse. With 300, it understood you better than yourself. Computers see us in a more robust way than we see ourselves, says Kosinski.

But there are strict ethical regulations regarding what you can do with this data. Did SCL Group have access to the universitys model or data, I ask Professor Jonathan Rust, the centres director? Certainly not from us, he says. We have very strict rules around this.

A scientist, Aleksandr Kogan, from the centre was contracted to build a model for SCL, and says he collected his own data. Professor Rust says he doesnt know where Kogans data came from. The evidence was contrary. I reported it. An independent adjudicator was appointed by the university. But then Kogan said hed signed a non-disclosure agreement with SCL and he couldnt continue [answering questions].

Kogan disputes this and says SCL satisfied the universitys inquiries. But perhaps more than anyone, Professor Rust understands how the kind of information people freely give up to social media sites could be used.

Nigel
Former Ukip leader Nigel Farage is a friend of the Mercers. Photograph: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images

The danger of not having regulation around the sort of data you can get from Facebook and elsewhere is clear. With this, a computer can actually do psychology, it can predict and potentially control human behaviour. Its what the scientologists try to do but much more powerful. Its how you brainwash someone. Its incredibly dangerous.

Its no exaggeration to say that minds can be changed. Behaviour can be predicted and controlled. I find it incredibly scary. I really do. Because nobody has really followed through on the possible consequences of all this. People dont know its happening to them. Their attitudes are being changed behind their backs.

Mercer invested in Cambridge Analytica, the Washington Post reported, driven in part by an assessment that the right was lacking sophisticated technology capabilities. But in many ways, its what Cambridge Analyticas parent company does that raises even more questions.

Emma Briant, a propaganda specialist at the University of Sheffield, wrote about SCL Group in her 2015 book, Propaganda and Counter-Terrorism: Strategies for Global Change. Cambridge Analytica has the technological tools to effect behavioural and psychological change, she said, but its SCL that strategises it. It has specialised, at the highest level for Nato, the MoD, the US state department and others in changing the behaviour of large groups. It models mass populations and then it changes their beliefs.

SCL was founded by someone called Nigel Oakes, who worked for Saatchi & Saatchi on Margaret Thatchers image, says Briant, and the company had been making money out of the propaganda side of the war on terrorism over a long period of time. There are different arms of SCL but its all about reach and the ability to shape the discourse. They are trying to amplify particular political narratives. And they are selective in who they go for: they are not doing this for the left.

In the course of the US election, Cambridge Analytica amassed a database, as it claims on its website, of almost the entire US voting population 220 million people and the Washington Post reported last week that SCL was increasing staffing at its Washington office and competing for lucrative new contracts with Trumps administration. It seems significant that a company involved in engineering a political outcome profits from what follows. Particularly if its the manipulation, and then resolution, of fear, says Briant.

Its the database, and what may happen to it, that particularly exercises Paul-Olivier Dehaye, a Swiss mathematician and data activist who has been investigating Cambridge Analytica and SCL for more than a year. How is it going to be used? he says. Is it going to be used to try and manipulate people around domestic policies? Or to ferment conflict between different communities? It is potentially very scary. People just dont understand the power of this data and how it can be used against them.

There are two things, potentially, going on simultaneously: the manipulation of information on a mass level, and the manipulation of information at a very individual level. Both based on the latest understandings in science about how people work, and enabled by technological platforms built to bring us together.

Are we living in a new era of propaganda, I ask Emma Briant? One we cant see, and that is working on us in ways we cant understand? Where we can only react, emotionally, to its messages? Definitely. The way that surveillance through technology is so pervasive, the collection and use of our data is so much more sophisticated. Its totally covert. And people dont realise what is going on.

Public mood and politics goes through cycles. You dont have to subscribe to any conspiracy theory, Briant says, to see that a mass change in public sentiment is happening. Or that some of the tools in action are straight out of the militarys or SCLs playbook.

But then theres increasing evidence that our public arenas the social media sites where we post our holiday snaps or make comments about the news are a new battlefield where international geopolitics is playing out in real time. Its a new age of propaganda. But whose? This week, Russia announced the formation of a new branch of the military: information warfare troops.

Sam Woolley of the Oxford Internet Institutes computational propaganda institute tells me that one third of all traffic on Twitter before the EU referendum was automated bots accounts that are programmed to look like people, to act like people, and to change the conversation, to make topics trend. And they were all for Leave. Before the US election, they were five-to-one in favour of Trump many of them Russian. Last week they have been in action in the Stoke byelection Russian bots, organised by who? attacking Paul Nuttall.

Politics is war, said Steve Bannon last year in the Wall Street Journal. And increasingly this looks to be true.

Theres nothing accidental about Trumps behaviour, Andy Wigmore tells me. That press conference. It was absolutely brilliant. I could see exactly what he was doing. Theres feedback going on constantly. Thats what you can do with artificial intelligence. You can measure ever reaction to every word. He has a word room, where you fix key words. We did it. So with immigration, there are actually key words within that subject matter which people are concerned about. So when you are going to make a speech, its all about how can you use these trending words.

Wigmore met with Trumps team right at the start of the Leave campaign. And they said the holy grail was artificial intelligence.

Who did?

Jared Kushner and Jason Miller.

Later, when Trump picked up Mercer and Cambridge Analytica, the game changed again. Its all about the emotions. This is the big difference with what we did. They call it bio-psycho-social profiling. It takes your physical, mental and lifestyle attributes and works out how people work, how they react emotionally.

Bio-psycho-social profiling, I read later, is one offensive in what is called cognitive warfare. Though there are many others: recoding the mass consciousness to turn patriotism into collaborationism, explains a Nato briefing document on countering Russian disinformation written by an SCL employee. Time-sensitive professional use of media to propagate narratives, says one US state department white paper. Of particular importance to psyop personnel may be publicly and commercially available data from social media platforms.

Yet another details the power of a cognitive casualty a moral shock that has a disabling effect on empathy and higher processes such as moral reasoning and critical thinking. Something like immigration, perhaps. Or fake news. Or as it has now become: FAKE news!!!!

How do you change the way a nation thinks? You could start by creating a mainstream media to replace the existing one with a site such as Breitbart. You could set up other websites that displace mainstream sources of news and information with your own definitions of concepts like liberal media bias, like CNSnews.com. And you could give the rump mainstream media, papers like the failing New York Times! what it wants: stories. Because the third prong of Mercer and Bannons media empire is the Government Accountability Institute.

Bannon co-founded it with $2m of Mercers money. Mercers daughter, Rebekah, was appointed to the board. Then they invested in expensive, long-term investigative journalism. The modern economics of the newsroom dont support big investigative reporting staffs, Bannon told Forbes magazine. You wouldnt get a Watergate, a Pentagon Papers today, because nobody can afford to let a reporter spend seven months on a story. We can. Were working as a support function.

Welcome to the future of journalism in the age of platform capitalism. News organisations have to do a better job of creating new financial models. But in the gaps in between, a determined plutocrat and a brilliant media strategist can, and have, found a way to mould journalism to their own ends.

In 2015, Steve Bannon described to Forbes how the GAI operated, employing a data scientist to trawl the dark web (in the article he boasts of having access to $1.3bn worth of supercomputers) to dig up the kind of source material Google cant find. One result has been a New York Times bestseller, Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich, written by GAIs president, Peter Schweizer and later turned into a film produced by Rebekah Mercer and Steve Bannon.

This, Bannon explained, is how you weaponise the narrative you want. With hard researched facts. With those, you can launch it straight on to the front page of the New York Times, as the story of Hillary Clintons cash did. Like Hillarys emails it turned the news agenda, and, most crucially, it diverted the attention of the news cycle. Another classic psyops approach. Strategic drowning of other messages.

This is a strategic, long-term and really quite brilliant play. In the 1990s, Bannon explained, conservative media couldnt take Bill Clinton down becausethey wound up talking to themselves in an echo chamber.

As, it turns out, the liberal media is now. We are scattered, separate, squabbling among ourselves and being picked off like targets in a shooting gallery. Increasingly, theres a sense that we are talking to ourselves. And whether its Mercers millions or other factors, Jonathan Albrights map of the news and information ecosystem shows how rightwing sites are dominating sites like YouTube and Google, bound tightly together by millions of links.

Is there a central intelligence to that, I ask Albright? There has to be. There has to be some type of coordination. You can see from looking at the map, from the architecture of the system, that this is not accidental. Its clearly being led by money and politics.

Theres been a lot of talk in the echo chamber about Bannon in the last few months, but its Mercer who provided the money to remake parts of the media landscape. And while Bannon understands the media, Mercer understands big data. He understands the structure of the internet. He knows how algorithms work.

Robert Mercer did not respond to a request for comment for this piece. NickPatterson, a British cryptographer, who worked at Renaissance Technologies in the 80s and is now a computational geneticist at MIT, described to me how he was the one who talent-spotted Mercer. There was an elite group working at IBM in the 1980s doing speech research, speech recognition, and when I joined Renaissance I judged that the mathematics we were trying to apply to financial markets were very similar.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/feb/26/robert-mercer-breitbart-war-on-media-steve-bannon-donald-trump-nigel-farage

Zaha Hadid leaves 67m fortune, architect’s will reveals

British-Iraqi architect behind London 2012 aquatics centre leaves 1.7m to relatives and 500,000 to business partner

Zaha Hadid, the British-Iraqi architect who died suddenly last March, left a fortune worth 67m, her will reveals.

The designer of the London Olympics aquatics centre, Guangzhou opera house and buildings in countries ranging from Saudi Arabia and South Korea to Azerbaijan, bequeathed a lump sum of 500,000 to her business partner Patrik Schumacher. Hadid also left a total of 1.7m to four nieces and nephews, as well as her brother Haytham Hadid, whose share was 500,000.

The architect, who was made a dame in 2012, was unmarried with no children and left her international design businesses, which account for the bulk of her wealth, in trust.

London
London aquatics centre. Photograph: View Pictures/Rex/Shutterstock

Hadid rose to become one of the worlds most famous architects with her brand of mathematically inspired curving buildings. She died aged 65 after suffering suspected heart failure while on holiday in Miami following an earlier bout of bronchitis.

Her will, obtained by the Architects Journal, shows that the net value of her estate was 67,249,458. The calculation was filed in the high court dated 14 December 2016.

Schumacher, a German architect who has taken over the running of Hadids London-based practice, angered his fellow executors of Hadids will in November after making a provocative speech that advocated abandoning social housing, the closure of art schools and building over Hyde Park. The executors are Schumacher, Peter Palumbo, the property developer, Brian Clarke, the artist, and Rana Hadid, the architects niece. They upbraided Schumacher in a public statement, saying Zaha Hadid would have been totally opposed to these views.

The will shows Hadid is leaving her architecture practice, of which she was the sole owner, in trust. In the year to the end of April 2015, Zaha Hadid Ltd turned over 48m and employed 372 people.

Patrik
Patrik Schumacher. Photograph: Andrew Innerarity/Reuters

Hadid gave her executors powers to distribute all or some of the income from her several businesses, including the practice, to a wide range of parties. They include past, current and future employees and office holders of the companies, and the Zaha Hadid Foundation, which was set up to promote architectural education and exhibitions of Hadids work. Others who could benefit are family members and charities.

The will states that for the moment the trustees are her executors: Schumacher, Clarke, Palumbo and Rana Hadid.

Hadid was born in Baghdad in 1950 and became a revolutionary force in British architecture even though she struggled to win commissions in the UK for many years. She studied mathematics at the American University of Beirut before launching her architectural career in London at the Architectural Association.

By 1979, she had established her own practice in London Zaha Hadid Architects and gained a reputation across the world for groundbreaking theoretical works including the Peak in Hong Kong (1983), Kurfrstendamm 70 in Berlin (1986) and the Cardiff Bay opera house in Wales (1994).

The first major build commission that earned her international recognition was the Vitra fire station in Weil am Rhein, Germany (1993), but her scheme to build the Cardiff opera house was scrapped in the 1990s and she did not produce a major building in the UK until the Riverside Museum of Transport in Glasgow was completed in 2011.

She became the first female recipient of the Pritzker architecture prize in 2004 and twice won the UKs most prestigious architecture award, the RIBA Stirling prize.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/jan/16/zaha-hadid-leaves-67m-fortune-architects-will-reveals

In a post-truth world, statistics could provide an essential public service | John Pullinger

Statisticians can now amass more data more quickly than ever. This could help us to make decisions based on real numbers, not prejudice

In the post-truth society there is a huge opportunity for statistics. On the face of it that may sound like a contradiction. But as individuals trying to work out what is really going on in the world around us, for businesses trying to decide on their next venture, and for governments trying to form effective policy, there is a common desire: data.

There is great potential for us to mobilise the power of data to help us make better decisions. However, the technology that has allowed us all to be so wonderfully connected has also allowed us each to live in our own world, separated from others. In our online lives, we risk connecting only with those with similar views to our own and not encountering those who think differently something many commentators are now terming the social media echo chamber.

But this is not new we have always tended to mix with people of similar backgrounds, and inevitably we have tended to read those newspapers whose outlook we prefer. However, what is different, is that for many people, especially the young, looking to the web rather than broadcast bulletins, this risk is growing. In this situation, it becomes increasingly hard to understand how anyone else can have a different view. It also becomes increasingly easy to think little of those who do.

This can make us prey to those who choose to support their own perspective with facts that show just how right they are (and how wrong everyone else). These facts can be made up. They can be biased or out of context. Often they fit the old adage about the drunk and the lamppost used more for support than illumination. This wilful blindness is dangerous.

Of course decisions are made on the basis of emotions and beliefs as well as science. Those of us who work in the world of data need some humility in what we claim. But good evidence does matter. Anyone who wants us to succeed as individuals, families, communities, businesses and as a country should stand up and make the case.

Unless we have a trustworthy understanding of where we are now, unless we can analyse what works, and unless we can focus attention on what matters, we are unlikely to make the most of the opportunities we must now seize in the months and years ahead.

My current job as a government statistical adviser was first created by Winston Churchill in 1941 when he said, with uncharacteristic understatement, that the utmost confusion is caused when people base arguments on different numbers. He called for someone to provide information that could be accepted and used without question. That remains a powerful rallying call for me and my colleagues.

And today, while the data revolution has created a moment of danger, it also provides the opportunity to gain new insights. It is now possible to get those insights much more quickly, in more fine-grained forms, and to design them to illuminate the issues that people care about. Recent reports produced by my team on domestic violence, our ageing population and UK productivity are just some examples of what is possible. With the right rules in place to respect the fact that we make use of information about individuals and individual businesses and must not betray their privacy, there is an unprecedented potential to use data to serve the public good.

So, with the supply of data increasing rapidly, perhaps our real challenge is to take our statistics off the page and find ways to listen and connect with those people who have been left perplexed and disappointed by experts. For us in official statistics, as well as the wider statistical world, that means our mission has to shift fundamentally, from being mere producers of numbers to providers of an essential public service. That way we can realise the potential that now exists to help us all make better decisions.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jan/31/post-truth-statistics-data-facts

How statistics lost their power and why we should fear what comes next | William Davies

The Long Read: The ability of statistics to accurately represent the world is declining. In its wake, a new age of big data controlled by private companies is taking over and putting democracy in peril

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. Antipathy to statistics has become one of the hallmarks of the populist right, with statisticians and economists chief among the various experts that were ostensibly rejected by voters in 2016. Not only are statistics viewed by many as untrustworthy, there appears to be something almost insulting or arrogant about them. Reducing social and economic issues to numerical aggregates and averages seems to violate some peoples sense of political decency.

Nowhere is this more vividly manifest than with immigration. The thinktank British Future has studied how best to win arguments in favour of immigration and multiculturalism. One of its main findings is that people often respond warmly to qualitative evidence, such as the stories of individual migrants and photographs of diverse communities. But statistics especially regarding alleged benefits of migration to Britains economy elicit quite the opposite reaction. People assume that the numbers are manipulated and dislike the elitism of resorting to quantitative evidence. Presented with official estimates of how many immigrants are in the country illegally, a common response is to scoff. Far from increasing support for immigration, British Future found, pointing to its positive effect on GDP can actually make people more hostile to it. GDP itself has come to seem like a Trojan horse for an elitist liberal agenda. Sensing this, politicians have now largely abandoned discussing immigration in economic terms.

All of this presents a serious challenge for liberal democracy. Put bluntly, the British government its officials, experts, advisers and many of its politicians does believe that immigration is on balance good for the economy. The British government did believe that Brexit was the wrong choice. The problem is that the government is now engaged in self-censorship, for fear of provoking people further.

This is an unwelcome dilemma. Either the state continues to make claims that it believes to be valid and is accused by sceptics of propaganda, or else, politicians and officials are confined to saying what feels plausible and intuitively true, but may ultimately be inaccurate. Either way, politics becomes mired in accusations of lies and cover-ups.

The declining authority of statistics and the experts who analyse them is at the heart of the crisis that has become known as post-truth politics. And in this uncertain new world, attitudes towards quantitative expertise have become increasingly divided. From one perspective, grounding politics in statistics is elitist, undemocratic and oblivious to peoples emotional investments in their community and nation. It is just one more way that privileged people in London, Washington DC or Brussels seek to impose their worldview on everybody else. From the opposite perspective, statistics are quite the opposite of elitist. They enable journalists, citizens and politicians to discuss society as a whole, not on the basis of anecdote, sentiment or prejudice, but in ways that can be validated. The alternative to quantitative expertise is less likely to be democracy than an unleashing of tabloid editors and demagogues to provide their own truth of what is going on across society.

Is there a way out of this polarisation? Must we simply choose between a politics of facts and one of emotions, or is there another way of looking at this situation?One way is to view statistics through the lens of their history.We need to try and see them for what they are: neither unquestionable truths nor elite conspiracies, but rather as tools designed to simplify the job of government, for better or worse. Viewed historically, we can see what a crucial role statistics have played in our understanding of nation states and their progress. This raises the alarming question of how if at all we will continue to have common ideas of society and collective progress, should statistics fall by the wayside.


In the second half of the 17th century, in the aftermath of prolonged and bloody conflicts, European rulers adopted an entirely new perspective on the task of government, focused upon demographic trends an approach made possible by the birth of modern statistics. Since ancient times, censuses had been used to track population size, but these were costly and laborious to carry out and focused on citizens who were considered politically important (property-owning men), rather than society as a whole. Statistics offered something quite different, transforming the nature of politics in the process.

Statistics were designed to give an understanding of a population in its entirety,rather than simply to pinpoint strategically valuable sources of power and wealth. In the early days, this didnt always involve producing numbers. In Germany, for example (from where we get the term Statistik) the challenge was to map disparate customs, institutions and laws across an empire of hundreds of micro-states. What characterised this knowledge as statistical was its holistic nature: it aimed to produce a picture of the nation as a whole. Statistics would do for populations what cartography did for territory.

Equally significant was the inspiration of the natural sciences. Thanks to standardised measures and mathematical techniques, statistical knowledge could be presented as objective, in much the same way as astronomy. Pioneering English demographers such as William Petty and John Graunt adapted mathematical techniques to estimate population changes, for which they were hired by Oliver Cromwell and Charles II.

The emergence in the late 17th century of government advisers claiming scientific authority, rather than political or military acumen, represents the origins of the expert culture now so reviled by populists. These path-breaking individuals were neither pure scholars nor government officials, but hovered somewhere between the two. They were enthusiastic amateurs who offered a new way of thinking about populations that privileged aggregates and objective facts. Thanks to their mathematical prowess, they believed they could calculate what would otherwise require a vast census to discover.

There was initially only one client for this type of expertise, and the clue is in the word statistics. Only centralised nation states had the capacity to collect data across large populations in a standardised fashion and only states had any need for such data in the first place. Over the second half of the 18th century, European states began to collect more statistics of the sort that would appear familiar to us today. Casting an eye over national populations, states became focused upon a range of quantities: births, deaths, baptisms, marriages, harvests, imports, exports, price fluctuations. Things that would previously have been registered locally and variously at parish level became aggregated at a national level.

New techniques were developed to represent these indicators, which exploited both the vertical and horizontal dimensions of the page, laying out data in matrices and tables, just as merchants had done with the development of standardised book-keeping techniques in the late 15th century. Organising numbers into rows and columns offered a powerful new way of displaying the attributes of a given society. Large, complex issues could now be surveyed simply by scanning the data laid out geometrically across a single page.

These innovations carried extraordinary potential for governments. By simplifying diverse populations down to specific indicators, and displaying them in suitable tables, governments could circumvent the need to acquire broader detailed local and historical insight. Of course, viewed from a different perspective, this blindness to local cultural variability is precisely what makes statistics vulgar and potentially offensive. Regardless of whether a given nation had any common cultural identity, statisticians would assume some standard uniformity or, some might argue, impose that uniformity upon it.

Not every aspect of a given population can be captured by statistics. There is always an implicit choice in what is included and what is excluded, and this choice can become a political issue in its own right. The fact that GDP only captures the value of paid work, thereby excluding the work traditionally done by women in the domestic sphere, has made it a target of feminist critique since the 1960s. In France, it has been illegal to collect census data on ethnicity since 1978, on the basis that such data could be used for racist political purposes. (This has the side-effect of making systemic racism in the labour market much harder to quantify.)

Despite these criticisms, the aspiration to depict a society in its entirety, and to do so in an objective fashion, has meant that various progressive ideals have been attached to statistics. The image of statistics as a dispassionate science of society is only one part of the story. The other part is about how powerful political ideals became invested in these techniques: ideals of evidence-based policy, rationality, progress and nationhood grounded in facts, rather than in romanticised stories.


Since the high-point of the Enlightenment in the late 18th century, liberals and republicans have invested great hope that national measurement frameworks could produce a more rational politics, organised around demonstrable improvements in social and economic life. The great theorist of nationalism, Benedict Anderson, famously described nations as imagined communities,but statistics offer the promise of anchoring this imagination in something tangible. Equally, they promise to reveal what historical path the nation is on: what kind of progress is occurring? How rapidly? For Enlightenment liberals, who saw nations as moving in a single historical direction, this question was crucial.

The potential of statistics to reveal the state of the nation was seized in post-revolutionary France. The Jacobin state set about imposing a whole new framework of national measurement and national data collection. The worlds first official bureau of statistics was opened in Paris in 1800. Uniformity of data collection, overseen by a centralised cadre of highly educated experts, was an integral part of the ideal of a centrally governed republic, which sought to establish a unified, egalitarian society.

From the Enlightenment onwards, statistics played an increasingly important role in the public sphere, informing debate in the media, providing social movements with evidence they could use. Over time, the production and analysis of such data became less dominated by the state. Academic social scientists began to analyse data for their own purposes, often entirely unconnected to government policy goals. By the late 19th century, reformers such as Charles Booth in London and WEB Du Bois in Philadelphia were conducting their own surveys to understand urban poverty.

Illustration
Illustration by Guardian Design

To recognise how statistics have been entangled in notions of national progress, consider the case of GDP. GDP is an estimate of the sum total of a nations consumer spending, government spending, investments and trade balance (exports minus imports), which is represented in a single number. This is fiendishly difficult to get right, and efforts to calculate this figure began, like so many mathematical techniques, as a matter of marginal, somewhat nerdish interest during the 1930s. It was only elevated to a matter of national political urgency by the second world war, when governments needed to know whether the national population was producing enough to keep up the war effort. In the decades that followed, this single indicator, though never without its critics, took on a hallowed political status, as the ultimate barometer of a governments competence. Whether GDP is rising or falling is now virtually a proxy for whether society is moving forwards or backwards.

Or take the example of opinion polling, an early instance of statistical innovation occurring in the private sector. During the 1920s, statisticians developed methods for identifying a representative sample of survey respondents, so as to glean the attitudes of the public as a whole. This breakthrough, which was first seized upon by market researchers, soon led to the birth of the opinion polling. This new industry immediately became the object of public and political fascination, as the media reported on what this new science told us about what women or Americans or manual labourers thought about the world.

Nowadays, the flaws of polling are endlessly picked apart. But this is partly due to the tremendous hopes that have been invested in polling since its origins. It is only to the extent that we believe in mass democracy that we are so fascinated or concerned by what the public thinks. But for the most part it is thanks to statistics, and not to democratic institutions as such, that we can know what the public thinks about specific issues. We underestimate how much of our sense of the public interest is rooted in expert calculation, as opposed to democratic institutions.

As indicators of health, prosperity, equality, opinion and quality of life have come to tell us who we are collectively and whether things are getting better or worse, politicians have leaned heavily on statistics to buttress their authority. Often, they lean too heavily, stretching evidence too far, interpreting data too loosely, to serve their cause. But that is an inevitable hazard of the prevalence of numbers in public life, and need not necessarily trigger the type of wholehearted rejections of expertise that we have witnessed recently.

In many ways, the contemporary populist attack on experts is born out of the same resentment as the attack on elected representatives. In talking of society as a whole, in seeking to govern the economy as a whole, both politicians and technocrats are believed to have lost touch with how it feels to be a single citizen in particular. Both statisticians and politicians have fallen into the trap of seeing like a state, to use a phrase from the anarchist political thinker James C Scott. Speaking scientifically about the nation for instance in terms of macroeconomics is an insult to those who would prefer to rely on memory and narrative for their sense of nationhood, and are sick of being told that their imagined community does not exist.

On the other hand, statistics (together with elected representatives) performed an adequate job of supporting a credible public discourse for decades if not centuries. What changed?


The crisis of statistics is not quite as sudden as it might seem. For roughly 450 years, the great achievement of statisticians has been to reduce the complexity and fluidity of national populations into manageable, comprehensible facts and figures. Yet in recent decades, the world has changed dramatically, thanks to the cultural politics that emerged in the 1960s and the reshaping of the global economy that began soon after. It is not clear that the statisticians have always kept pace with these changes. Traditional forms of statistical classification and definition are coming under strain from more fluid identities, attitudes and economic pathways. Efforts to represent demographic, social and economic changes in terms of simple, well-recognised indicators are losing legitimacy.

Consider the changing political and economic geography of nation states over the past 40 years. The statistics that dominate political debate are largely national in character: poverty levels, unemployment, GDP, net migration. But the geography of capitalism has been pulling in somewhat different directions. Plainly globalisation has not rendered geography irrelevant. In many cases it has made the location of economic activity far more important, exacerbating the inequality between successful locations (such as London or San Francisco) and less successful locations (such as north-east England or the US rust belt). The key geographic units involved are no longer nation states. Rather, it is cities, regions or individual urban neighbourhoods that are rising and falling.

The Enlightenment ideal of the nation as a single community, bound together by a common measurement framework, is harder and harder to sustain. If you live in one of the towns in the Welsh valleys that was once dependent on steel manufacturing or mining for jobs, politicians talking of how the economy is doing well are likely to breed additional resentment. From that standpoint, the term GDP fails to capture anything meaningful or credible.

When macroeconomics is used to make a political argument, this implies that the losses in one part of the country are offset by gains somewhere else. Headline-grabbing national indicators, such as GDP and inflation, conceal all sorts of localised gains and losses that are less commonly discussed by national politicians. Immigration may be good for the economy overall, but this does not mean that there are no local costs at all. So when politicians use national indicators to make their case, they implicitly assume some spirit of patriotic mutual sacrifice on the part of voters: you might be the loser on this occasion, but next time you might be the beneficiary. But what if the tables are never turned? What if the same city or region wins over and over again, while others always lose? On what principle of give and take is that justified?

In Europe, the currency union has exacerbated this problem. The indicators that matter to the European Central Bank (ECB), for example, are those representing half a billion people. The ECB is concerned with the inflation or unemployment rate across the eurozone as if it were a single homogeneous territory, at the same time as the economic fate of European citizens is splintering in different directions, depending on which region, city or neighbourhood they happen to live in. Official knowledge becomes ever more abstracted from lived experience, until that knowledge simply ceases to be relevant or credible.

The privileging of the nation as the natural scale of analysis is one of the inbuilt biases of statistics that years of economic change has eaten away at. Another inbuilt bias that is coming under increasing strain is classification. Part of the job of statisticians is to classify people by putting them into a range of boxes that the statistician has created: employed or unemployed, married or unmarried, pro-Europe or anti-Europe. So long as people can be placed into categories in this way, it becomes possible to discern how far a given classification extends across the population.

This can involve somewhat reductive choices. To count as unemployed, for example, a person has to report to a survey that they are involuntarily out of work, even if it may be more complicated than that in reality. Many people move in and out of work all the time, for reasons that might have as much to do with health and family needs as labour market conditions. But thanks to this simplification, it becomes possible to identify the rate of unemployment across the population as a whole.

Heres a problem, though. What if many of the defining questions of our age are not answerable in terms of the extent of people encompassed, but the intensity with which people are affected? Unemployment is one example. The fact that Britain got through the Great Recession of 2008-13 without unemployment rising substantially is generally viewed as a positive achievement. But the focus on unemployment masked the rise of underemployment, that is, people not getting a sufficient amount of work or being employed at a level below that which they are qualified for. This currently accounts for around 6% of the employed labour force. Then there is the rise of the self-employed workforce, where the divide between employed and involuntarily unemployed makes little sense.

This is not a criticism of bodies such as the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which does now produce data on underemployment. But so long as politicians continue to deflect criticism by pointing to the unemployment rate, the experiences of those struggling to get enough work or to live on their wages go unrepresented in public debate. It wouldnt be all that surprising if these same people became suspicious of policy experts and the use of statistics in political debate, given the mismatch between what politicians say about the labour market and the lived reality.

The rise of identity politics since the 1960s has put additional strain on such systems of classification. Statistical data is only credible if people will accept the limited range of demographic categories that are on offer, which are selected by the expert not the respondent. But where identity becomes a political issue, people demand to define themselves on their own terms, where gender, sexuality, race or class is concerned.

Opinion polling may be suffering for similar reasons. Polls have traditionally captured peoples attitudes and preferences, on the reasonable assumption that people will behave accordingly. But in an age of declining political participation, it is not enough simply to know which box someone would prefer to put an X in. One also needs to know whether they feel strongly enough about doing so to bother. And when it comes to capturing such fluctuations in emotional intensity, polling is a clumsy tool.

Statistics have faced criticism regularly over their long history. The challenges that identity politics and globalisation present to them are not new either. Why then do the events of the past year feel quite so damaging to the ideal of quantitative expertise and its role in political debate?


In recent years, a new way of quantifying and visualising populations has emerged that potentially pushes statistics to the margins, ushering in a different era altogether. Statistics, collected and compiled by technical experts, are giving way to data that accumulates by default, as a consequence of sweeping digitisation. Traditionally, statisticians have known which questions they wanted to ask regarding which population, then set out to answer them. By contrast, data is automatically produced whenever we swipe a loyalty card, comment on Facebook or search for something on Google. As our cities, cars, homes and household objects become digitally connected, the amount of data we leave in our trail will grow even greater. In this new world, data is captured first and research questions come later.

In the long term, the implications of this will probably be as profound as the invention of statistics was in the late 17th century. The rise of big data provides far greater opportunities for quantitative analysis than any amount of polling or statistical modelling. But it is not just the quantity of data that is different. It represents an entirely different type of knowledge, accompanied by a new mode of expertise.

First, there is no fixed scale of analysis (such as the nation) nor any settled categories (such as unemployed). These vast new data sets can be mined in search of patterns, trends, correlations and emergent moods. It becomes a way of tracking the identities that people bestow upon themselves (such as #ImwithCorbyn or entrepreneur) rather than imposing classifications upon them. This is a form of aggregation suitable to a more fluid political age, in which not everything can be reliably referred back to some Enlightenment ideal of the nation state as guardian of the public interest.

Second, the majority of us are entirely oblivious to what all this data says about us, either individually or collectively. There is no equivalent of an Office for National Statistics for commercially collected big data. We live in an age in which our feelings, identities and affiliations can be tracked and analysed with unprecedented speed and sensitivity but there is nothing that anchors this new capacity in the public interest or public debate. There are data analysts who work for Google and Facebook, but they are not experts of the sort who generate statistics and who are now so widely condemned. The anonymity and secrecy of the new analysts potentially makes them far more politically powerful than any social scientist.

A company such as Facebook has the capacity to carry quantitative social science on hundreds of billions of people, at very low cost. But it has very little incentive to reveal the results. In 2014, when Facebook researchers published results of a study of emotional contagion that they had carried out on their users in which they altered news feeds to see how it affected the content that users then shared in response there was an outcry that people were being unwittingly experimented on. So, from Facebooks point of view, why go to all the hassle of publishing? Why not just do the study and keep quiet?


What is most politically significant about this shift from a logic of statistics to one of data is how comfortably it sits with the rise of populism. Populist leaders can heap scorn upon traditional experts, such as economists and pollsters, while trusting in a different form of numerical analysis altogether. Such politicians rely on a new, less visible elite, who seek out patterns from vast data banks, but rarely make any public pronouncements, let alone publish any evidence. These data analysts are often physicists or mathematicians, whose skills are not developed for the study of society at all. This, for example, is the worldview propagated by Dominic Cummings, former adviser to Michael Gove and campaign director of Vote Leave. Physics, mathematics and computer science are domains in which there are real experts, unlike macro-economic forecasting, Cummings has argued.

Figures close to Donald Trump, such as his chief strategist Steve Bannon and the Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel, are closely acquainted with cutting-edge data analytics techniques, via companies such as Cambridge Analytica, on whose board Bannon sits. During the presidential election campaign, Cambridge Analytica drew on various data sources to develop psychological profiles of millions of Americans, which it then used to help Trump target voters with tailored messaging.

This ability to develop and refine psychological insights across large populations is one of the most innovative and controversial features of the new data analysis. As techniques of sentiment analysis, which detect the mood of large numbers of people by tracking indicators such as word usage on social media, become incorporated into political campaigns, the emotional allure of figures such as Trump will become amenable to scientific scrutiny. In a world where the political feelings of the general public are becoming this traceable, who needs pollsters?

Few social findings arising from this kind of data analytics ever end up in the public domain. This means that it does very little to help anchor political narrative in any shared reality. With the authority of statistics waning, and nothing stepping into the public sphere to replace it, people can live in whatever imagined community they feel most aligned to and willing to believe in. Where statistics can be used to correct faulty claims about the economy or society or population, in an age of data analytics there are few mechanisms to prevent people from giving way to their instinctive reactions or emotional prejudices. On the contrary, companies such as Cambridge Analytica treat those feelings as things to be tracked.

But even if there were an Office for Data Analytics, acting on behalf of the public and government as the ONS does, it is not clear that it would offer the kind of neutral perspective that liberals today are struggling to defend. The new apparatus of number-crunching is well suited to detecting trends, sensing the mood and spotting things as they bubble up. It serves campaign managers and marketers very well. It is less well suited to making the kinds of unambiguous, objective, potentially consensus-forming claims about society that statisticians and economists are paid for.

In this new technical and political climate, it will fall to the new digital elite to identify the facts, projections and truth amid the rushing stream of data that results. Whether indicators such as GDP and unemployment continue to carry political clout remains to be seen, but if they dont, it wont necessarily herald the end of experts, less still the end of truth. The question to be taken more seriously, now that numbers are being constantly generated behind our backs and beyond our knowledge, is where the crisis of statistics leaves representative democracy.

On the one hand, it is worth recognising the capacity of long-standing political institutions to fight back. Just as sharing economy platforms such as Uber and Airbnb have recently been thwarted by legal rulings (Uber being compelled to recognise drivers as employees, Airbnb being banned altogether by some municipal authorities), privacy and human rights law represents a potential obstacle to the extension of data analytics. What is less clear is how the benefits of digital analytics might ever be offered to the public, in the way that many statistical data sets are. Bodies such as the Open Data Institute, co-founded by Tim Berners-Lee, campaign to make data publicly available, but have little leverage over the corporations where so much of our data now accumulates. Statistics began life as a tool through which the state could view society, but gradually developed into something that academics, civic reformers and businesses had a stake in. But for many data analytics firms, secrecy surrounding methods and sources of data is a competitive advantage that they will not give up voluntarily.

A post-statistical society is a potentially frightening proposition, not because it would lack any forms of truth or expertise altogether, but because it would drastically privatise them. Statistics are one of many pillars of liberalism, indeed of Enlightenment. The experts who produce and use them have become painted as arrogant and oblivious to the emotional and local dimensions of politics. No doubt there are ways in which data collection could be adapted to reflect lived experiences better. But the battle that will need to be waged in the long term is not between an elite-led politics of facts versus a populist politics of feeling. It is between those still committed to public knowledge and public argument and those who profit from the ongoing disintegration of those things.

Follow the Long Read on Twitter at @gdnlongread, or sign up to the long read weekly email here.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/jan/19/crisis-of-statistics-big-data-democracy

Dads final, defiant Christmas was the best ever | Clare Allan

An aggressive brain tumour meant that my family knew his time was short. We set out to make Christmas special

It is hard to believe that its now 10 years since that last, defiantChristmas.

In the summer, we had celebrated my fathers 70th birthday. In the autumn, he began to lose his words.

He called me one day to say hed been having a few, sort of memory problems, and there was something in his voice beyond the usual mild-mannered hesitancy. Something that made me immediately take my dog and catch a train to Cambridge. My parents met us at the station. As soon as we got into the car, my dog scrambled over and climbed on to my fathers lap.

The memory loss was particular and strange. It was as though certain words had become detached from the objects they signified. We were eating strawberries, I remember. Dad looked down at his bowl and frowned. Microphones? he said. A blood test, he described to me as them taking some ink from his arm.

The impression was not of delusional thinking. Dad didnt believe the strawberries were actually microphones. Rather, he looked at the strawberries and the word for them wasnt there. He reached for another and tried it for fit. Microphones? It wasnt right, but he couldnt find the word that was. Strawberries? I said. And he laughed. Of course! Strawberries, he said. How silly.

His GP had referred him to the memory clinic to be assessed for dementia. There was a three-month wait, but in any case, dementia seemed unlikely. We had known people with dementia and it did not present like this. My mother thought it might be psychological. Dad had retired in the summer from his readership in pure mathematics, and though, externally at least, this change had made little difference he still cycled in to his old department every day, where he was working on a book on Banach algebra, and he still played an active part in college life Mum thought the loss of his professional role might be having an impact on him.

My sister and I were unconvinced, and so, I think, was she. We rang his GP and got put through to a different doctor, who agreed to see Dad that evening. At 8am the following morning, he was having an emergency scan.

Glioblastoma multiforme is the most aggressive type of brain tumour. Thread-like tendrils burrow deep into the brain, making it all but impossible to remove the tumour completely. Dads was on his left frontal lobe, in the area responsible for expressive language. They operated to excise as much of the tumour as they could, and Dad came round to discover that, as if by magic, his words had returned. Still high from the anaesthetic, he lay, head bandaged, in his hospital bed, riffing with consummate fluency, this gentle, self-effacing man, unaccustomed to the centre stage and rather surprised to find himself enjoying it after all.

There was no question of survival. A few weeks to a few months, they said. It was incomprehensible. But perhaps the finality of the prognosis was in some sense also a blessing. We did not invest our hopes in some percentage chance; there was no chance. We focused instead on the now.

And so it was that we embraced that Christmas, in a spirit of neither despair, nor hope, but rather, of defiant celebration. We would enjoy the best Christmas ever. We would relish every precious moment. We would be happy, and we were. We didnt do anything different. The pleasure of Christmas is in the traditions. The same decorations hung on the tree. My sister and I joke-argued as we had every year over whose angels turn it was to top it. I cannot remember who won. We ate the same foods, played the same silly games word games mostly: consequences, drawing book titles. I can see Dad now, his scar extending from under his yellow paper crown, dabbing tears of laughter from his eyes at Mums attempts to guess Love in the Time of Cholera from his peculiar pencil squiggles. It was all the same, but the light at the heart had been turned up a notch.

We went to midnight mass at the friary. My parents were Catholics; I am not, but there is comfort to be found in the rituals of Christmas, the line stretching forward and back. So too in the rituals of death. In a few months, my fathers coffin would sit in this chapel the night before his funeral. I did not consciously think of it, but I can see now it was an awareness of this, of the inevitability of the end, that made that Christmas so joyful. Christmas is about birth, of course, but it is also about death. You cannot have one without the other. Time is precious. Thats why the wise men bring myrrh.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/dec/26/dad-final-defiant-christmas-brain-tumour

Our nine-point guide to spotting a dodgy statistic

Brexit is just the latest instance of politicians bending figures to match their agenda

I love numbers. They allow us to get a sense of magnitude, to measure change, to put claims in context. But despite their bold and confident exterior, numbers are delicate things and thats why it upsets me when they are abused. And since theres been a fair amount of number abuse going on recently, it seems a good time to have a look at the classic ways in which politicians and spin doctors meddle with statistics.

Every statistician is familiar with the tedious Lies, damned lies, and statistics gibe, but the economist, writer and presenter of Radio4s More or Less, Tim Harford, has identified the habit of some politicians as not so much lying to lie means having some knowledge of the truth as bullshitting: a carefree disregard of whether the number is appropriate ornot.

So here, with some help from the UK fact-checking organisation Full Fact, is a nine-point guide to whats really going on.

Use a real number, but change its meaning

Theres almost always some basis for numbers that get quoted, but its often rather different from what is claimed. Take, for example, the famous 350m, as in the We send the EU 350m a week claim plastered over the big red Brexit campaign bus. This is a true National Statistic (see Table 9.9 of the ONS Pink Book 2015), but, in the words of Sir Andrew Dilnot, chair of the UK Statistics Authority watchdog, it is not an amount of money that the UK pays to the EU. In fact, the UKs net contribution is more like 250m a week when Britains rebate is taken into account and much of that is returned in the form of agricultural subsidies and grants to poorer UK regions, reducing the figure to 136m. Sir Andrew expressed disappointment that this misleading claim was being made by Brexit campaigners but this ticking-off still did not get the busrepainted.

George
George Osborne quoted the Treasurys projection of 4,300 as the cost per household of leaving the EU. Photograph: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Make the number look big (but not too big)

Why did the Leave campaign frame the amount of money as 350m per week, rather than the equivalent 19bn a year? They probably realised that, once numbers get large, say above 10m, they all start seeming the same all those extra zeros have diminishing emotional impact. Billions, schmillions, its just a Big Number.

Of course they could have gone the other way and said 50m a day, but then people might have realised that this is equivalent to around a packet of crisps each, which does not sound soimpressive.

George Osborne, on the other hand, preferred to quote the Treasurys projection of the potential cost of leaving the EU as 4,300 per household per year, rather than as the equivalent 120bn for the whole country. Presumably he was trying to make the numbers seem relevant, but perhaps he would have been better off framing the projected cost as 2.5bn a week so as to provide a direct comparison with the Leave campaigns 350m. It probably would not have made any difference: the weighty 200-page Treasury report is on course to become a classic example of ignoredstatistics.

Hospital
Recent studies confirmed higher death rates at weekends, but showed no relationship to weekend staffing levels. Photograph: Peter Byrne/PA

Casually imply causation from correlation

In July 2015 Jeremy Hunt said: Around 6,000 people lose their lives every year because we do not have a proper seven-day service in hospitals. and by February 2016 this had increased to 11,000 excess deaths because we do not staff our hospitals properly at weekends. These categorical claims that weekend staffing was responsible for increased weekend death rates were widely criticised at the time, particularly by the people who had done the actual research. Recent studies have confirmed higher death rates at weekends, but these showed norelationship to weekend staffinglevels.

Tom Blenkinsop and David Cameron on nurse numbers at PMQs, December 2014

Choose your definitions carefully

On 17 December 2014, Tom Blenkinsop MP said, Today, there are 2,500 fewer nurses in our NHS than in May 2010, while on the same day David Cameron claimed Today, actually, there are new figures out on the NHS there are 3,000 more nurses under this government. Surely one must bewrong?

But Mr Blenkinsop compared the number of people working as nurses between September 2010 and September 2014, while Cameron used the full-time-equivalent number of nurses, health visitors and midwives between the start of the government in May 2010 and September 2014. So they were both, in their own particular way,right.

Health
Indicator hopper: Health secretary Jeremy Hunt. Photograph: PA

Use total numbers rather than proportions (or whichever way suits your argument)

In the final three months of 2014, less than 93% ofattendances at Accident and Emergency units were seen within four hours, the lowest proportion for 10 years. And yet Jeremy Hunt managed to tweet that More patients than ever being seen in less than four hours. Which, strictly speaking, was correct, but only because more people were attending A&E than ever before. Similarly, when it comes to employment, an increasing population means that the number of employed can go up even when the employment rate goes down. Full Fact has shown how the political parties play indicator hop, picking whichever measure currently supports their argument.

Andy
Is crime going up or down? Dont ask Andy Burnham. Photograph: PA

Dont provide any relevant context

Last September shadow home secretary Andy Burnham declared that crime is going up, and when pressed pointed to the police recording more violent and sexual offences than the previous year. But police-recorded crime data were de-designated as official statistics by the UK Statistics Authority in 2014 as they were so unreliable: they depend strongly on what the public choose to report, and how the police choose to recordit.

Instead the Crime Survey for England and Wales is the official source of data, as it records crimes that are not reported to the police. And the Crime Survey shows a steady reduction in crime for more than 20 years, and no evidence of an increase in violent and sexual offences lastyear.

Exaggerate the importance of a possibly illusory change

Next time you hear a politician boasting that unemployment has dropped by 30,000 over the previous quarter, just remember that this is an estimate based on a survey. And that estimate has a margin of error of +/- 80,000, meaning that unemployment may well have gone down, but it may have gone up the best we can say is that it hasnt changed very much, but that hardly makes a speech. And to be fair, the politician probably has no idea that this is an estimate and not a headcount.

Serious
Serious youth crime has actually declined, but thats not because of TKAP. Photograph: Action Press / Rex Features

Prematurely announce the success of a policy initiative using unofficial selected data

In June 2008, just a year after the start of the Tackling Knives Action Programme (TKAP), No 10 got the Home Office to issue a press release saying the number of teenagers admitted to hospital for knife or sharp instrumentwounding in nine police force areas fell by 27% according to new figures published today. But this used unchecked unofficial data, and was against the explicit advice of officialstatisticians. They got publicity, but also a serious telling-off from the UK Statistics Authority which accused No 10 of making an announcement that was corrosive of public trust in officialstatistics. The final conclusionabout the TKAP was that serious youth violence had declined in the country, but no more in TKAP areas thanelsewhere.

Donald
Donald Trump: Am I going to check every statistic?
Photograph: Robert F. Bukaty/AP

If all else fails, just make the numbers up

Last November, Donald Trump tweeted a recycled image that included the claim that Whites killed by blacks 81%, citing Crime Statistics Bureau San Francisco. The US fact-checking site Politifact identified this as completely fabricated the Bureau did not exist, and the true figure is around 15%. When confronted with this, Trump shrugged and said, Am I going to check every statistic?

Not all politicians are so cavalier with statistics, and of course its completely reasonable for them to appeal to our feelings and values. But there are some serial offenders who conscript innocent numbers, purely to provide rhetorical flourish to theirarguments.

We deserve to have statistical evidence presented in a fair and balanced way, and its only by public scrutiny and exposure that anything will ever change. There are noble efforts to dam the flood of naughty numbers. The BBCs More or Lessteam take apart dodgy data, organisations such as Full Fact and Channel 4s FactCheck expose flagrant abuses, the UK Statistics Authority write admonishing letters. The Royal Statistical Society offers statistical training for MPs, and the House of Commons library publishes a Statistical Literacy Guide: how to spot spin and inappropriate use ofstatistics.

They are all doing great work, but the shabby statistics keep on coming. Maybe these nine points can provide a checklist, or even the basis for a competition how many points can your favourite minister score? In my angrier moments I feel that number abuse should bemade a criminal offence. But thats a law unlikely to be passed bypoliticians.

David Spiegelhalter is the Winton Professor of the Public Understanding of Risk at the University of Cambridge and president elect of the Royal StatisticalSociety

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/jul/17/politicians-dodgy-statistics-tricks-guide