Official Statistics

Official Statistics

Sociologists frequently use statistics to support or debunk a theory. However, the use of statistics to examine social issues has its detractors and some work on the principle that there are ‘lies, damned lies and statistics’. Therefore the use of statistics in sociological research has to be done carefully and sensitively.

 

“Official statistics are quantitative statistics published by Government agencies or other public bodies”

 

Official statistics are used to collate facts and figures which can be used to keep records of a person or persons. They are used in businesses to analyse the market (i.e. to see what is, and isn’t selling) and they can be used by Governments as a means of keeping a record on their citizens.

 

Within sociology, statistics are used to determine the factors which can affect normal life. In other words, sociologists can compare statistics to see if there is a trend between two related sets of information. For example, a sociologist studying the divorce rate in Britain might be able to cross examine that and the domestic violence rate, to see if they correlate in some way.

 

Official statistics can be used in a variety of ways in sociology. It allows us to compare the levels of ethnic minorities causing classroom disruption, and which group is causing the most. They allow us to compare the suicide rates in Britain according to someone’s economic status. The birth and death rates can also be studied.

 

What are the advantages of official statistics?

 

Because official statistics are gathered and collated by external parties (e.g. the Office of National Statistics) it can be very time saving for sociologists wishing to carry out observations as the information is all collected for them and requires very little time from the conductor of the research.

 

Official Statistics are massively available, that is to say that there are many statistics that can be accessed, they are cheap too, the Office of National Statistics is free access and available to anyone, it allows sociologists to use the data without spending too much out of their own pocket.

 

However, there are disadvantages.

 

One is known as the “Statistical Iceberg”. This is the effect that many statistic collections face in a survey. It is incredibly unlikely that every single case of, for example, knife crime is reported. If official statistics show that there has been a drop in knife crime, however, then the official response from government is that any current policy has to be working as the statistics show this. Obviously the government can only use the statistics it has at its disposal but sceptics of the use of statistics believe that the very nature of what is being researched – frequently sensitive issues – mean that people simply will not come forward or they will give incorrect information to the researcher thus devaluing the official results.

 

Operationalised statistics is the action of giving data a meaning to meet a specific conclusion. The most relevant example in recent times is that of global warming. Some scientists claim that statistics have been deliberately slanted to ‘prove’ that global warming is happening and that this is the result of the world’s failure to adopt a more green approach to living. Those who do not support the idea that global warming is a new occurrence claim that they have statistics that they could use to prove that the world is going through a cyclical weather change. They claim that they have the statistics and data to support them. Some have argued that the UK government has used a variety of selected weather statistics to justify a variety of green taxes in the hope that the public will view the green taxes as more acceptable that just a ‘normal’ tax.

 

How reliable are Official Statistics? Due to the preparation and care when being undertaken, the reliability of official statistics is fairly high as they can use the same questionnaire, survey or census for a large sample group. However, that does not mean that the results are accurate. The accuracy of the results depends entirely on the participants. It is possible or even probable that they will lie on a survey (the ‘Hawthorn Effect’, people act differently when being watched) and possibly give an answer that will reflect on them better personally, even if it is anonymous!

 

A major concern, though, is that the true number of events/occurrences are rarely fully reported (the above mentioned ‘Iceberg Effect’).

 

The validity of any Official Statistics is often very high, as any statistics will be up to date, relevant and the way the data is gathered should eliminate chances of errors. Once one set of official statistics is out of date, the researchers will as soon as possible perform another collection of data to update it, this ensures all data is fresh and appropriate. However this may not even cause any problems as sociologists looking at past data will not be affected by how old a set of statistics.

 

Because official statistics are gathered and collated by external parties (e.g. the Office of National Statistics) it can be very time saving for sociologists wishing to carry out observations as the information is all collected for them and requires very little time from the conductor of the research.

 

Great care is taken when samples and data are collected. An organisation such as the Office of National Statistics has strict guidelines on conducting surveys, censuses and data collection. They will always organise their test sample fairly, considerately and according to the survey itself (i.e. they would not survey children if investigating the justice system). It is likely that they would (if conducting a nationwide survey) use a stratified sample from every region of the country and compile the data from it to produce a very accurate estimate, which may only be off by approximately 1% either way. This eliminates (as much as possible) the chances of the sociologist making a mistake in collecting the data.

 

Official Statistics are massively available, that is to say that there are many official statistics that can be accessed. Accessing is cheap too as the Office of National Statistics has free access and they are available to anyone. Such a policy allows sociologists to use the data without spending too much out of their own pocket.

 

Courtesy of Lee Bryant, Director of Sixth Form, Anglo-European School, Ingatestone, Essex


MLA Citation/Reference

"Official Statistics". HistoryLearningSite.co.uk. 2011. Web.






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