When was the last time you read a grand statement, accompanied by a large number, and wondered whether it could really be true?
Statistics are vital in helping us tell stories – we see them in the papers, on social media, and we hear them used in everyday conversation – and yet we doubt them more than ever. But numbers, in the right hands, have the power to change the world for the better. Contrary to popular belief, good statistics are not a trick, although they are a kind of magic. Good statistics are like a telescope for an astronomer, or a microscope for a bacteriologist. If we are willing to let them, good statistics help us see things about the world around us and about ourselves.
Tim Harford is a senior columnist for the Financial Times, the presenter of Radio 4’s More or Less and is a visiting fellow at Nuffield College, Oxford. His books include The Fifty Things that Made the Modern Economy, Messy, and The Undercover Economist.
The Oxford Mathematics Public Lectures are generously supported by XTX Markets.