More bad stats

Via Recess Monkey comes this prime example of statistical hyperbole from the PM no less.

Written answers
Monday, 21 November 2005

Prime Minister
Terrorism Legislation

Grant Shapps (Welwyn Hatfield, Con)

“To ask the Prime Minister pursuant to his oral answer of 9 November 2005, Official Report, column 298W, to the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), what means he used to calculate the conversion between gigabytes and feet”.

Tony Blair

“The method of calculation was taken from the ‘New Perspectives Series’ published by Thomson Leaning entitled ‘Computer Concepts, Fourth Edition, Enhanced’ (June Parsons and Dan Oja, Chapter 4, Section D), which calculates that a computer hard drive of 20.4 gigabytes would equate to 5.4 million sheets of single spaced normal text, which would in turn produce a stack of paper around 1,800 feet high. The computer hard drive in question equalled 750 gigabytes which would, therefore, have produced the equivalent of 198 million sheets of paper standing at 66,176 feet high”.

There are several obvious problems with Blair’s gigabyte to feet conversion.

First, and just to be picky, the biggest HD I can find in retail channels is current 500Gb, so ‘the hard drive’ singular is rather a misnomer.

However, and much more to the point, who the fuck has a 750Gb hard drive full of fucking text anyway? What the fuck is Blair suggesting the police are trying to do, print and read a terrorist suspect’s collection of MP3 music files?

“Well sir, this one files starts of with ‘aDFsrgt!”$%fsgWyDgQE5Y adhgafSDGahySGqw’ which means its either encrypted instructions from Osama bin Laden or we’re trying read the new Crazy Frog single”

What Blair actually said during PMQ’s on 9 November was this:

For example, just this last weekend, we arrested people on a terrorist operation. There were 750 gigabytes of data—that is 66,000 ft-worth of data—that would be printed out and have to be investigated.

Which is, of course, a complete load of bollocks.

Yeah, sure Tony, the police really are going to print out every file on the hard drive(s) they’ve seized and spend weeks pouring over print outs of assorted bits of Microsoft Windows in order to spot the secret messages that Al-Qaeda have been embedding in the operating system where only their operatives will find them.

Using text analysis software it would take the police a matter of a few hours to scan even 750Gb of data for files which might contain useful information or evidence, unless, of course the drives are encrypted in which case it could take anything from a matter of minutes to several hundred years to unlock the information depending on how security savvy the people using the computers were.

In general terms, then, the police are either going to turn up useful evidence in a matter of a few days or they’ll get nothing at all – but the one thing that is certain is that they won’t be running off 66,000 feet of print outs in the process.

All that Blair’s doing here is making an exaggerated claim to cover up the fact that his arguments don’t hold water – I wonder where I’ve heard him do that before?

  • Great research, many thanks.

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