PHWOAR, those noughty inks: '0.1%' named Stat of The Year

Sheffield boffins win UK prize, Kardashian's '69' scoops international gong


The Royal Statistical Society has bestowed the coveted title of UK statistic of the year on 0.1 per cent – the percentage of land that's densely built on in the nation.

The statistic, carefully selected by an all-star stats panel, comes from research by boffins from the University of Sheffield.

The team, led by Alasdair Rae, analysed info on land usage from the EU Corine open dataset – which is divided into 44 classes, including categories like "broad-leaved forest" or "olive grove"* – to create "A Land Cover Atlas of the UK".

They established that just 0.1 per cent of the UK is designated "continuous urban fabric" – a category assigned to an area if more than 80 per cent of the ground is covered by artificial surfaces.

A Land Cover Atlas of the United Kingdom, from Sheffield research

Land Cover Atlas of the UK, created by Alasdair Rae et al

Stats guru and RSS president David Spiegelhalter, who chaired the judging panel, said that the stat had been chosen because it would challenge people's expectations.

"The strength in this statistic is its surprise element. I think the figure is far smaller than most people will have expected. Whatever side of the argument you sit on, this statistic gives true insight into the landscape of the United Kingdom."

The panel also picked out an international stat of the year – 69, as promoted on Twitter by Kim Kardashian (no jokes, please, this is serious).

The figure – taken from a HuffPo article by Richard Todd – is the number of Americans killed by lawnmowers, on average, each year, and was compared with the number killed by immigrant Jihadist terrorists.

The judging panel liked the stat for its role in pointing out the disparities in US deaths after Donald Trump's proposed migrant ban.

University of Glasgow boffin Liberty Vittert said it gives a good insight into risk – "a key concept in both statistics and everyday life" – and because it went viral thanks to a celebrity.

"When you consider that this figure was put into the public domain by Kim Kardashian, it becomes even more powerful because it shows anyone, statistician or not, can use statistics to illustrate an important point and illuminate the bigger picture."

The panel also named a few "highly commended" stats, including the depressing figures that real average pay in the UK was 3 per cent lower in 2017 than 2008, and that in October this year the concentration of CO2 reached 403.3 parts per million, the highest level in 800,000 years.

Another staggering statistic commended by the panel was 7.7 billion: the number of active phone connections in the world, which is the first time the figure exceeded the world's population.

"In the view of the judging panel, this was a staggering statistic. It shows just how rapidly the whole world is now entering into the communication age," said panel member journalist Mark Easton. ®

*This is one of five categories that aren't present in the UK. The others being "glacier", "agro-forestry", "annual crops associated with permanent crops" and "sclerophyllous vegetation", which is a scrubland common in hot countries. The UK has much more in the way of pastures (29 per cent) and peat bogs (9.4 per cent).

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