On the hunt for the “typical” Australian

Cara MacNish writes: Re. “Media rush to find the ‘typical’ Australian” (Wednesday) In the age of fake news I would like to reassure readers that words have meanings. The ABS is to be credited for cautiously putting quotes around “typical” throughout its press release and including explanatory notes. Many of the subsequent news reports are less cautious, and frequently replace ‘typical’ with ‘average’, even when apparently quoting from the ABS. None of the data released by the ABS contain averages. The median age simply means that if you line up all of the people in order of age, that age falls in the middle. Only one person is required to be of that age, and other ages may be far more common. The remaining figures, by contrast, are modes.

For example, two children being the mode for “Count of All Children in Family” means that two is more common than other numbers, but not that the majority of families have two children. Further, it is unclear from the release what constitutes a ‘family’, and whether a count of zero children was included in this sample. The ABS further notes that each criterion is analysed independently.

This means that, despite the data being correct, the coincidence of characteristics that define “Claire” need not exist at all, and certainly need not be the most common coincidence of characteristics. It has to be questioned, then, what value this caricature provides. Overall, the ABS release and subsequent press coverage leave the impression that if you travel about Australian society you will bump into ‘Claire’ more frequently than any other type of person. This is not what the data say. It is misleading not because, as the ABS is quick to point out, “we’re [also] a big, diverse community”, but because it is not what the data say.

On the Grassroots Greens

Colin Smith writes: Re. “Are the Greens heading for factional war?” (Tuesday)

I learn that we Victorian Greens are being challenged by some nameless people called the “Grassroots Greens”. 

I reject the insinuations in their manifesto, that we in the mainstream are afraid to “put forward radical policy”; and “playing small target politics”. We are however, indeed guilty “of chasing votes in … inner-city … electorates” – probably relatively “wealthy” ones, at least one of which is called “blue-ribbon”.

 We are guilty of this because – long before we had any money to throw at anything – we won a lot more votes from those inner-city electorates – mainly Labor but also Liberal – while outer electorates were far less receptive. We therefore field candidates statewide only with a view to sustaining our upper house vote, while focusing resources on those lower house seats which we have some chance of winning.

We thus follow the advice of Sun Tzu – “to avoid what is strong, and strike at what is weak”, whereas the “Grassroots Greens” think we should do the opposite –  squandering our resources and shattering our morale and momentum in futile campaigns to win the unwinnable. They propose this, presumably, in order to ensure that we retain that political purity of which Gough Whitlam spoke – the purity of the impotent. 

On the Carmichael coal mine

Meredith Williams writes: Re. “Will Turnbull pander to Adani with a $900m loan?” (Wednesday)

What! Malcolm Turnbull has redoubled his commitment to the controversial Carmichael coal mine, and we are on the verge of lending Adani the money to build its railroad to disaster? This is madness! Coal is a has-been, open-cut mines are environmental vandalism, and anyone with the brain of half a sea slug could work out that the colossal seaport required to service this proposed mega mine, with its constant heavy traffic, will be the death knell of the already severely damaged Barrier Reef. Our priceless coral wonderland is one of the most sensitive ecosystems on the planet. Tell Adani to pack up and shoot through. 

Peter Fray

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