Numberwang on the web

The Guardian has a Data Blog with the subtitle Facts are sacred..

Tempting as it is to wander round the epistemological byways here (What’s a “fact,” for a start?) I’ll spare you that. Instead I’ll express bafflement about the factualness of some specific facts on government websites posted yesterday.

A decorative graphic has blobs to represent the costs of UK government websites. There’s a clickthrough button to get the data from Manyeyes.

The data is shocking, on first view. For instance, it seems to have cost the UK taxpayer £154 for every visit to the Cabinet Office site. Cue horror. Except that these appear to be made-up numbers, with the calculations done on a solar powered calculator sitting at the bottom of a deep well.

Here are a few columns that I took from the data, applied simple maths to and lo! most sites cost a few pence per visit.

I’ve left the original numbers so you can work out costs per visit yourself. I’ve shown my calculations on a blue background.

Details from the govt webcosts spreadsheet

Details from the govt webcosts spreadsheet

I fear I’m doing the post a disservice when I scroll down and find a link to Google docs that offers the full data. Download the full list as spreadsheet doesn’t work for me but, when I look at the data on this sheet, it makes a lot more sense. Costs per visit are down to pence rather than tens of pounds. Not that I can replicate this either. But I get a lot closer.
UK govt web costs, as held in google docs

Ah ha: At the end of the Guardian post there’s a caveat:

UPDATE: an error in the cost per visitor column has now been corrected

Sorry, not when I looked at it it. Which, surely must be after it’s been corrected, or else I wouldn’t be able to see the correction note.

In any case, the original costs are dubious. Some of these sites must be new and have not got a full year’s data. The basis on which any given department has costed its sites might be wholly individual. I am forced to conclude that these are pretty well just made up numbers from start to finish. Although that doesn’t excuse the failure for anyone to notice that a simple division has been borked.

Any reader would gasp at the idea of sites that squander 3 week’s unemployment benefit on each visitor. That “information” sticks in the mind. Few readers would be finicky enough to look at the detail.

It says Facts are Sacred in bold letters at the head of the post. You could be forgiven for absent-mindedly taking it that someone had made sure that these were sacred facts.

A paranoid person might easily assume that the release of such spurious data was part of a propaganda offensive to convince UK voters that the public sector is so bloated and wasteful that the planned public sector cuts will not affect anything important. They’ll just involve stopping stupid and wasteful spending….

Like the imaginary huge (6-year-salary!) redundancy payments to inherently idle public sector workers that another Guardian blogger treats as a representative of the true position. Then characterises the head of a public sector union as a rabid militant for opposing the destruction of his member’s jobs and employment conditions.

I initially, and charitably, assumed this was a random Comment is Free post, maybe by a freelancing Daily Mail journalist.

But it appears that the writer is a senior figure in the Guardian. He was the Guardian’s political editor for 16 years. From his profile:

Michael White is assistant editor and has been writing for the Guardian for over 30 years

I see I have been spending £300 every ten minutes on buying the Guardian and it’s only ever worth it on the increasingly-rare days when Charlie Brooker is side-splittingly funny and Marina Hyde isn’t engaged in electoral enthusiasms for former presenters of shows about amusing vegetables. I begin to think a 40% cut in my Guardian spending is long overdue.

Palin wins hearts – boggles minds

Amazingly, it seems that despite the sheer force of nonsense in her, ahem, speeches, Sarah Palin has won some supporters. No, I cant understand it either.

Reading the comments on the entertaining Guardian piece I linked to previously, shows there are some people with an interesting take on reality. I will try to provide links to the comments but Heather has informed me this doesn’t seem to be working.

For some reason, there are a lot of Americans reading British newspapers [see Heathers Post] and then feeling the need to wade in when ever the Republican party is mentioned. Nearly all are so rabidly anti-Obama it is quite funny. Even funnier are the ones who say we should mind our own business and no one in America cares what we think. The irony is fantastic, and only matched by their ignorance of it.

Anyway, on the current stream of conciousness, which is at least on the American Comment pages… I am aware my recent posts have been long, so I will only look at two funny comments here:

The first s by the very American sounding “JohnQPublic” who writes:

No honest person would have described this debate as anything other than a draw in which both candidates states many falsehoods as truths and didn’t answer the questions posed. No one sets the cause of equal rights for women further back than do self-described feminists.

Well, I am hurt that John Q Public thinks I am dishonest, but in all fairness nothing Biden could have done would have been either as offensive or just plain wrong as Palin. To say she “drew” with him is comical. Bastet only knows what the second sentence refers to…

The second is by the also-American-sounding “FreedomLand.” This one is so good, I’m going to have to take it a bit at a time:

Ahh, is this the male misogynist blog? Opps, no, its written by a woman! Perhaps an Obama-phile in disguise. “The Ring” attacks again, duh…..

The “ring” bit has lost me, however the opening gambit speaks volumes. It is a twist of appeal to ridicule mixed with ad-hominems. It says nothing of value and adds nothing to FreedomLand’s arguments – it does highlight a lack thereof.

For some reason, it has become quite common for a certain type of person to misspell “oops” as “opps” – check out how many times you can see it on FSTDT. It certainly takes the sting out of this attempt at an insult though.

[comment about Palin getting off lightly] No, you are quite wrong, Michelle Goldberg, Barack Obama has been doing precisely that all year. Along comes a woman with executive experience in government and you assume the rules should change to pillory her to your satisfaction.

Choke. Wow. There are loads of people who bang on about how Palin has more experience than Obama. I find it quite weird to be honest, but most worryingly, if she does have “experience” why in Hades’ name does she come across as an ignorant retard every time she sees a camera? If she has “executive experience” where in Asgard is she hiding it?

Palin gets away with murder in front of the public. People hold back on savaging her because it seems a touch unchivalrous and, honestly, it is like kicking a puppy. She is, on the whole, too easy a target to fully ridicule – even here we hold back because so many things just seem to obvious and cruel as she is blatantly educationally subnormal.

You also forgot to mention that her husband is at least part native American Eskimo. What does it mean for a white woman to be married to an indigenous ethnic minority in the USA? Quite a lot really…..

What? A lot of what? The article also forgets to mention she has ten fingers and two ears… Is this a weird implication that Palin gets the “race” vote because she is married to a Native American? Have you seen Obama? I am really confused by this rant.

[comment on her performance being a farce] Well, this IS politics as it is, you know. Its a popularity contest decided by the lowest common denominator in society and usually on the most superficial grounds. Its the same for women candidates as it is for men.

Oh that makes it OK then? Vote for Palin because she is an idiot who appeals to other idiots.

Isn’t America a great place?

I am rapidly trying to convert my urge to emigrate to the US into an emigration to New Zealand

If in doubt, appeal to ridicule

Reading through the comment is free part of the Guardian is enlightening, entertaining and a bit saddening. It is enlightening because it shows how confused people become when they want to find a target to attack, it is entertaining because the commenters are, basically, crazy and saddening because once upon a time you would have thought people who read the Guardian were reasonably educated. Obviously in the internet age, this is no longer the case…

Anyway, a rant against the HSE by Simon Jenkins, titled “The zombie health inspectors should be replaced with a risk commission” drew my attention today. As I have mentioned in the past, I am often drawn into the murky world of health and safety much more than I would normally like, so this intrigued me.

The title of the article seems to draw on this part of Mr Jenkins long, repetitive, rant:
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