### Was I too harsh?

I'm always delighted to see statistics being mangled, as it's good fun untangling them. Sometimes, though, they're such a mess that it's hard to do anything other than mock.

This was the case with a story reported by the online magazine ShortList. it claimed that '120,000 leave voters have died since Brexit.' That seemed an impressive claim, so I took a look at the analysis, apparently sourced from the Twitter feed of someone called Steve Lawrence, who is an architect:

One statistical no-no jumps out here without even seeing where the data came from. We're being given figures in the 16-18 million range, based on some interesting manipulation which includes several estimates. Yet the values are given accurate to 1 - note how the big totals end in 9 and 5. You can either present a spuriously accurate number like these and provide an error range, or, less likely to mislead, you can round to your error level and still give an error range. What you can't do is give these as actual numbers, as done here.

I complained, saying amongst other things 'No one knows how many leave voters have died - and there is no sensible statistical method to discover that number.' A commenter, Robert Fuller, was quick to take me on:
There's a perfectly sensible statistical method: Let me have a go right now:
1. Source the number of people over 65
2. Source the death rate of over 65s
3. Multiply the death rate by the population and the time
4. Now split that figure based on the exit polls.
repeat for each age group.
Done.
Hmm. I'm afraid I was quite firm in response - and here's where I'm asking whether I was too harsh:
Woah, slow down their, tiger. So we’re taking polls we know were wrong and somehow combining them with other figures to produce numbers given to an accuracy of 1 in 16 million? Could you explain the statistical technique used? Feel free to be technical, I’ve got a Masters in the area. Which technique do you use to merge a poll which doesn’t have ages attached with age-based data sets?
To be fair, I only addressed a couple of the issues with his description, but it seemed enough.

### Why I hate opera

If I'm honest, the title of this post is an exaggeration to make a point. I don't really hate opera. There are a couple of operas - notably Monteverdi's Incoranazione di Poppea and Purcell's Dido & Aeneas - that I quite like. But what I do find truly sickening is the reverence with which opera is treated, as if it were some particularly great art form. Nowhere was this more obvious than in ITV's recent gut-wrenchingly awful series Pop Star to Opera Star , where the likes of Alan Tichmarsh treated the real opera singers as if they were fragile pieces on Antiques Roadshow, and the music as if it were a gift of the gods. In my opinion - and I know not everyone agrees - opera is: Mediocre music Melodramatic plots Amateurishly hammy acting A forced and unpleasant singing style Ridiculously over-supported by public funds I won't even bother to go into any detail on the plots and the acting - this is just self-evident. But the other aspects need some ex

### Is 5x3 the same as 3x5?

The Internet has gone mildly bonkers over a child in America who was marked down in a test because when asked to work out 5x3 by repeated addition he/she used 5+5+5 instead of 3+3+3+3+3. Those who support the teacher say that 5x3 means 'five lots of 3' where the complainants say that 'times' is commutative (reversible) so the distinction is meaningless as 5x3 and 3x5 are indistinguishable. It's certainly true that not all mathematical operations are commutative. I think we are all comfortable that 5-3 is not the same as 3-5.  However. This not true of multiplication (of numbers). And so if there is to be any distinction, it has to be in the use of English to interpret the 'x' sign. Unfortunately, even here there is no logical way of coming up with a definitive answer. I suspect most primary school teachers would expands 'times' as 'lots of' as mentioned above. So we get 5 x 3 as '5 lots of 3'. Unfortunately that only wor

### Which idiot came up with percentage-based gradient signs

Rant warning: the contents of this post could sound like something produced by UKIP. I wish to make it clear that I do not in any way support or endorse that political party. In fact it gives me the creeps. Once upon a time, the signs for a steep hill on British roads displayed the gradient in a simple, easy-to-understand form. If the hill went up, say, one yard for every three yards forward it said '1 in 3'. Then some bureaucrat came along and decided that it would be a good idea to state the slope as a percentage. So now the sign for (say) a 1 in 10 slope says 10% (I think). That 'I think' is because the percentage-based slope is so unnatural. There are two ways we conventionally measure slopes. Either on X/Y coordiates (as in 1 in 4) or using degrees - say at a 15° angle. We don't measure them in percentages. It's easy to visualize a 1 in 3 slope, or a 30 degree angle. Much less obvious what a 33.333 recurring percent slope is. And what's a 100% slope