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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Lib Dem barcharts make academia

Liberal Democrat barcharts are of course legitimate ways of getting a message across but they can sometimes be controversial, especially with other parties. I was surprised therefore to have a question in a Statistics for Economics examination at University of Wales, Aberystwyth drawn to my attention by the creator of the barcharts used in the Welsh Liberal Democrats General Election campaign in Ceredigion in 2005.

The exam in question, which took place only a few weeks after Mark Williams famously won the seat from Plaid Cymru, reproduces one of these barcharts and asks the students to comment on it. A total of eight marks is at stake. I wonder what a model answer would have been.
Aw, tell us what the questions were!
I did. The question was just asking them to comment. That was it.
I'll attempt a model answer.

The bar chart shown here is a totally legitimate attempt to persuade the electorate not to cast votes for the Conservative or Labour candidates. It informs the electorate of the result in the constituency in the previous parliamentary contest. As such it is a valid "like for like" comparison although the bars themselves seem to be not quite to scale.

It is in stark contrast to other bar charts that attempt to "squeeze" the vote by referring to the results of non "like for like" elections or "surveys".

The notorious 2007 Cardiff West bar-chart based on the number of councillors across the entire city and accompanied with a quote from "top election expert, Chris Rennard" would be a case in point.
Don't you feel that this is a bit pathetic for a Degree Standard question? Are you sure that this is a university exam paper question; it would be more at home on an old “O” level maths paper.

I know educational standards have gone down the pan since the 1980s but this is ridiculous.

This is what you get when you send 50% of the 18 year olds into education, when I was doing my degree only 5%-8% went to university.

It appears that the only qualification you need to get to university these days is a pulse!

One final comment before I get off my soapbox: Why have we got arts graduates in teaching science and mathematics in our schools?

It can’t be because there is a shortage of science graduates, I have applied without any success to go teacher training (haven’t even made the interview stage) but they aren’t interested in me (Physics degree, HE certificate in Counselling, six A levels including Maths, Chemistry & Human Biology, and 16 years industrial experience). Could it be at 43, I’m considered too old by 18 years?
Of course Liberal Democrat barcharts are a legitimate way of getting a message across.

However, answer me this simple question Peter?

If all the forecasts on every barchart, on every Focus, in every constituency were even a quarter correct, the Lib Dems would have least 150 MPs and about 53 AMs.

I just checked and to my amazement, I have discovered you have nowhere near those totals.

Were all those barcharts wrong by any chance?

Can you answer that point please?
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