Leong Sze Hian stands corrected?

On 23rd March 2011 we published an excerpt from a blog Visaisahero which revealed that the Straits Times (ST) might have heavily edited a forum letter until it reflected a view contrary to the intent of the letter writer, Samuel C. Wee. This was followed by an opinion piece by a TOC reader critical of ST’s actions.

On 25th March 2011, regular TOC contributor Leong Sze Hian weighed in on the issue. In his article “ST Forum Editor was right after all“, Mr Leong wrote that Samuel Wee was ‘quoting the wrong statistics’.

The following is Samuel Wee’s response to Mr Leong’s article, as well Mr Leong’s reply to him.

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Good day kind sir,

I refer to your TOC article dated today, March 25th.

In your article, you make the argument that “Straits Times Forum Editor, was merely amending his (my) letter to cite the correct statistics.

“For example, the Education Minister said “How children from the bottom one-third by socio-economic background fare: One in two scores in the top two-thirds at PSLE” –

But, Mr Samuel Wee wrote “His statement is backed up with the statistic that 50% of children from the bottom third of the socio-economic ladder score in the bottom third of the Primary School Leaving Examination”.”

Kind sir, the statistics state that 1 in 2 are in the top 66.6% (Which, incidentally, includes the top fifth of the bottom 50%!)

Does it not stand to reason, then, that if 50% are in the top 66.6%, the remaining 50% are in the bottom 33.3%, as I stated in my letter?

Also, perhaps you were not aware of the existence of this resource, but here is a graph from the Straits Times illustrating the fact that only 10% of children from one-to-three room flats make it to university–which is to say, 90% of them don’t.

http://www.straitstimes.com/STI/STIMEDIA/pdf/20110308/a10.pdf

I look forward to your reply, Mr Leong. Thank you for taking the time to read this message.

Yours truly,
Samuel Caleb Wee

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Hi Samuel,

Thanks very much for raising these very interesting points.

I feel that we should, wherever possible, try to agree to disagree, as it is healthy to have and to encourage different viewpoints.

Seldom, in my experience, is there a one hundred per cent right or wrong perspective on an issue or matter.

From a statistical perspective, in my humble opinion, I am afraid I am still unable to agree with you entirely, as I feel that it may not be appropriate to use statistics to quote what a person says, out of
context.

Allow me to illustrate this with an example:

If I say I think it is fair in Singapore, because half of the bottom one-third of the people make it to the top two-thirds, it does not mean that someone can quote me and say that I said what I said because half the bottom one-third of people did not make it.

I think it is alright to say that I do not agree entirely with what was said, because does it also mean on the flip side that half of the bottom one-third of the people did not make it?

This is what I mean by quoting one out of context, by using statistics that I did not say, and implying that I did, or by innuendo.

Moreover, depending on the methodology, definition, sampling, etc, half of the  bottom one-third of the people making it, does not necessary mean that half did not make it, because some may not be in the population because of various reasons, like emigration, not turning up, transfer, whether adjustments are made  for the mobility of people up or down the social strata over time, etc.

If I did not use a particular statistic to state my case, for example, I don’t think it is appropriate to quote me and say that you agree with me by citing statistics from a third party source, like the MOE chart in the Straits Times article, instead of quoting the statistics that I said.

Did the Minister make his remarks with reference to the MOE chart in the Straits Times article? In this regard, I can find no reference to answer this question. If the Minister did not refer to the MOE chart, which may have been inserted by the Straits Times in the context of the Straits Times’ reporting of the debate in Parliament, is it fair for anyone to assume that the Minister did so?  And thus conclude and say that he made his remarks by backing them up with the MOE chart statistics? What if the Minister was citing more current data than until 1995, which is about 15 years ago?

To put in in another way, I cannot find anything in any of the media reports to say with certainty that the Minister backed up his remarks with direct reference to the MOE chart. There is also nothing in the narrative that only 10 per cent  of children from one-to-three room flats make it to university – which is to say, 90 per cent  of them don’t. The ’90 per cent’ cannot be attributed to what the minister said, as at best it is the writer’s interpretation of the MOE chart. We may also need to be cognizant of the possibility of the relative ratio in the entire population at issue and by cohorts in terms of university and polytechnics, which may have been changing over time, from 1980 to the end date of 1995 in the chart.

I am happy to concede that notwithstanding my remarks above, judging from the number of people who have posted on The Online Citizen who say that you are right and I am wrong, that you are ‘statistically’ more right than me.

Finally, I would like to thank you again, because as a writer who hardly has any formal education, training or experience, in statistics, I am  continually trying to learn to write better, as I often try to write
from a statistical perspective – this has been one of the most  intellectually stimulating exchanges for me.

Leong Sze Hian

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