More meaningless statistics from the Sydney Morning Herald

Letter to the editor, Sydney Morning Herald, SMH, smh.com.au, Ryan McCarthyUPDATE: My letter to the Herald on this topic was published today (27/04/2010, see left).

In this weekend’s Saturday edition the Herald has helpfully published a list of top ‘gun licence holding’ postcodes in Sydney and NSW. If these figures are to believed, they mean very little on their own, and are surely ranked incorrectly.

Firstly, they have refered to “postcodes” by suburb names. I have personally never seen this done, by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, or anyone else for that matter. Putting that aside, and presuming that the Sydney figures for ‘Pemulwuy’ refer to postcode 2145 then it should actually be ranked seventh in their list, not first. On the other hand, Hoxton Park (postcode 2171) should be ranked first for Sydney, where about 2% of people hold a gun licence. I hasten to add, the article didn’t mention the 2%, I had to work that out myself.

Additionally, the data is in a ‘raw’ format by postcode, which of course provides readers with no real analysis (as every postcode has a different population). A relatively quick and straightforward comparison of the gun licence data presented to census data by postcode brings out far more meaningful comparisons. For example, it shows that more than one in ten people in the Illawarra postcode of 2528 hold a gun licence.

Statistics presented in this way speak for themselves and do not confuse readers with arbitrary numbers-on-a-page (see re-ranked data below). This is all of course if the raw data presented by the Herald is actually correct in the first place (and I have my suspicions – do nearly one in every two people in Boat Harbour really have a gun licence?).

Another curiosity in the article is the ranking (in descending numerical order) for Sydney:

  • 8th – Bankstown – 493
  • 9th – Merrylands – 475
  • 10th – Seven Hills – 484

And for NSW:

  • 3rd – Ashmont – 2107
  • 4th – Goulburn – 2049
  • 5th – Dubbo – 2193

Hmm… good one. Note to whoever put the table together: 484 is larger than 475 and 2193 is larger than both 2049 and 2107.

In case you were wondering, this isn’t really a story about guns, just bad journalism. More often than not, what I hope will be an interesting article just ends up leaving me with far more questions than answers…

Top gun licence holding postcodes in NSW* (presented as a percentage of total population)

‘Postcode name’ Postcode Actual rank SMH rank For Percentage of ‘total persons’ with a gun licence
Boat Harbour 2316 1 8 NSW 40.2%
Warilla 2528 2 1 NSW 11.0%
Inverell 2360 3 9 NSW 9.7%
Goulburn 2580 4 4 NSW 7.8%
Broken Hill 2880 5 10 NSW 6.5%
Canobolas 2800 6 2 NSW 5.8%
Dubbo 2830 7 5 NSW 5.6%
Grafton 2460 8 6 NSW 5.5%
Queanbeyan 2620 9 7 NSW 4.3%
Ashmont 2650 10 3 NSW 4.0%

Top gun licence holding postcodes in Sydney* (presented as a percentage of total population)

‘Postcode name’ Postcode Actual rank SMH rank For Percentage of ‘total persons’ with a gun licence
Hoxton Park 2171 1 6 Sydney 2.3%
Punchbowl 2196 2 7 Sydney 1.7%
Prairiewood 2176 3 2 Sydney 1.7%
Merrylands 2160 4 9 Sydney 1.6%
Kellyville 2155 5 5 Sydney 1.5%
Seven Hills 2147 6 10 Sydney 1.4%
Permulwuy 2145 7 1 Sydney 1.4%
Bankstown 2200 8 8 Sydney 1.3%
Baulkham Hills 2153 9 4 Sydney 1.3%
Blacktown 2148 10 3 Sydney 1.2%

*Gun licence data presented is from the Sydney Morning Herald article (unfortunately I can’t find another source to confirm it). Population data is from the ABS Census Data (2006).

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