The Challenge Of Interpreting Data

A large majority (80%) of Irish Garda (Police) stations reported just one crime or less per day in 2011. Now it is undoubtedly difficult to ascertain the precise number of crimes committed – as some proportion of crimes are inevitably unreported. But the low number of crimes reported has brought into focus the question of how many Garda stations are actually required.

Some argue that the low numbers of reported crime means that some of the Garda stations can be closed to help save money. Others argue the exact opposite – that the low numbers indicate successful policing – and also that many other offences that are not strictly classified as crimes also need to be dealt with by the Gardaí. Indeed the words of the 19th century British Prime Minister Robert Peel have been invoked as he claimed that “The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it”.

Now who is right? It’s hard to know isn’t it? The arguments from both sides are based on the same data. Data can be looked at through many lenses. Data can be manipulated. Data can be used selectively by those with a vested interest. And data can also be innocently misinterpreted.

What’s important to realise is that data is only one step along the path towards gaining an accurate understanding of an issue. Sometimes more extensive data is needed to explore additional angles. Sometimes objectivity is needed to remove vested interests from the debate.

If you want the objective truth, and you are grappling with how to gather and/or interpret data, get in touch and let’s see if I can help you.

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