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PHUKET: Our story this week about violent crime in Phuket set off a lively, multi-sided discussion in the Gazette readers forum, with several contributors pondering the relationship between police statistics and the actual situation on the ground.

Dismissing the report as irrelevant, some pointed to the astonishing number of reported cases of prostitution: 1,692 in the whole province for the entirety of fiscal 2010.

It goes without saying that 1,692 acts of prostitution would probably constitute a pretty slow single night’s performance in Patong alone.

The ability to misrepresent or otherwise “spin” statistics for various purposes is well known.

It’s a particularly big problem in the Thai media, not only because of sensationalist tendencies but also because many people in that segment of the industry lack basic numeracy. It is common, for example, to hear some of our leaders making nonsensical statements like, “I am 1,000% sure”, and “…decreased 117%”.

At the Gazette, we feel it important to report official statistics in the same way they are presented to us by the government agencies that produce them, letting readers decide for themselves what they mean, if anything.

Statistical analysis can be a very powerful tool, but only when properly applied. To be meaningful, the figures need to be taken at face value, and the context in which they were collected, well understood.

Some readers have been inclined to assume that a “25.2% rise in the number of prostitution cases reported” indicates a surge in the popularity of mankind’s oldest profession. Such is not necessarily the case. It is probably a better indicator of the number of brothels that failed to pay their dues for immunity.

It is also important to remember that government statistics in Thailand are, in large part, collected for internal purposes – not as grist for the media mill. This is why arrest rates figure so prominently in crime statistics, for example.

As for the recurring increases in reports of violent crime, here, too, background factors need to be taken into account. For example, the increase in cases of premeditated murder, from 38 to 45 over the past two fiscal years, represents a percentage increase of 18.4%. This has to be considered in light of the island’s swelling population.

Finally, some readers have charged the Phuket Gazette with irresponsibility for publishing crime statistics that could damage tourism. To this we would suggest that the bulk of our readers are educated, do have access to the Internet, and are more than entitled to be aware of matters that might affect them.