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Bad Data

On sale

2nd November 2023

Price: £12.99

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Selected: Paperback / ISBN-13: 9780349128634

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‘Essential reading … An incisive and urgently needed book’ Tim Harford

‘[An] entertaining introduction to the uses (and misuses) of data … a penetrating analysis of why statistical literacy matters to our politics and our daily lives’ Professor Jonathan Portes

Our politicians make vital decisions and declarations every day that rely on official data. But should all statistics be trusted?

In BAD DATA, House of Commons Library statistician Georgina Sturge draws back the curtain on how governments of the past and present have been led astray by figures littered with inconsistency, guesswork and uncertainty.

Discover how a Hungarian businessman’s bright idea caused half a million people to go missing from UK migration statistics. Find out why it’s possible for two politicians to disagree over whether poverty has gone up or down, using the same official numbers, and for both to be right at the same time. And hear about how policies like ID cards, super-casinos and stopping ex-convicts from reoffending failed to live up to their promise because they were based on shaky data.

With stories that range from the troubling to the empowering to the downright absurd, BAD DATA reveals secrets from the usually closed-off world of policy-making. It also suggests how – once we understand the human story behind the numbers – we can make more informed choices about who to trust, and when.


Rachel Cunliffe, New Statesman
A whistle-stop tour of all the ways the data that forms the basis of policymaking can fall short
Simon Briscoe, TLS
[An] excellent book ... there's something here for everyone who wants to better understand the limits of our knowledge about the country ... informative and at times amusing
Katy Guest, Guardian
Sturge is very effective at explaining, with human examples, how bad data affects lives. Readers of Hannah Fry's HELLO WORLD or Caroline Criado Perez's INVISIBLE WOMEN will be familiar with the notion that biased humans create biased artificial intelligence programmes. Here, we see their direct effects. ... [BAD DATA] is so good at inspiring curiosity and the inclination to challenge
Xand van Tulleken, TLS
A tour de force ... To study BAD DATA is to discover the extreme limits to official knowledge
Jonathan Portes, Professor of Economics and Public Policy
The plural of anecdote is not data. But Georgina Sturge's entertaining introduction to the uses (and misuses) of data in public policy and debate combines numerous stories, some amusing, some disturbing, with a penetrating analysis of why statistical literacy matters to our politics and our daily lives
Christopher Snowdon, Quillette
This informative, reasoned, and apolitical book offers a string of examples to show that statistics are not always what they seem
Tim Harford, bestselling author of HOW TO MAKE THE WORLD ADD UP and presenter of BBC Radio 4's More or Less
Essential reading for anyone who's ever wondered where all those numbers come from. Even more essential reading for anyone who hasn't. An incisive and urgently needed book
John Lanchester, London Review of Books
Bracing ... the story of how often things go wrong in the political use of statistics