The Royal Statistical Society (RSS), founded by Charles Babbage, is one of the most renowned and distinguished statistical societies in the world. The RSS is both the professional body of British statisticians and a charity dedicated to the promotion of statistics for the benefit of the public. In 2017, the RSS announced its very first award for International Statistic of the Year and UK Statistic of the Year. The winning statistic in each category, as well as the five non-winning entries that received a ‘highly commended’ recognition from the judging panel, are a celebration of how statistics can help us to understand our world a little better, and how they add essential context to popular talking points.

International Statistic of the Year: 69

The winning entry for International Statistic of the Year is a chilling one, being the number of American citizens (on average) who die in any given year due to an incident with a lawnmower.

Barely worthy of recognition on its own, it becomes important with a bit of context. The number of Americans who suffered death-by-lawnmower was originally cited in a Huffington Post article, along with several other death-related stats, including the number Americans struck down by lightning, and the number of Americans that die each year having been shot by one of their own countrymen. The reason for these tallies was to compare them to the number of American deaths caused by Jihadist immigrants each year, which is 2.

The article was in reaction to an Executive Order by President Trump to ban migrants from certain predominately Muslim countries, as he believed they were a risk to American citizens. It proved the paucity of Trump’s argument by simply running the numbers for terrorism-related fatalities of citizens on American soil against more prosaic causes of death.

The judges found that this was a significant statistic, both for highlighting the nature of risk, and for demonstrating how statistics may be utilised to address important issues.

UK Statistic of the Year: 0.1%

A less impressive looking number than the international award-winner, perhaps, but no less significant. That 0.1% refers to the percentage of land area in the United Kingdom which is considered to be densely built upon.

Professor Alasdair Rae, of the University of Sheffield, revealed this surprising figure last year in his book A Land Cover Atlas of the United Kingdom. The specific distinction of “densely built upon” refers to what is known as ‘continuous urban fabric’ (or, CUF). In other words, any areas of lands where a minimum of 80% of the available, natural ground is covered by some artificial surface, be it a building, concrete, or tarmac for instance.

Professor Rae’s book also postulates that, across the entire nation, only 5.4% of the land has been built upon in any capacity whatsoever.

The judges found this statistic appealing in light of current ongoing debates regarding urbanisation, environmental protection, and housing. They feel that there is a surprise value to the statistic and that many people will not believe just how little of the United Kingdom has been ‘concreted over’.

Highly commended

The following statistics didn’t quite make the grade but are interesting nonetheless.

– 3%: how much lower the average pay in the UK in 2017 was, compared to 2008.
– 21.0: the number of conceptions per thousand women aged between 15 and 17 – the lowest rate of teen pregnancies in the UK since records began.
– 403.3: carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere exceeded 400 parts in a million for the first time, its highest point in over 800 millennia.
– 7.7 billion: the number of active phone connections in the world, which is officially higher than the population of the world.
– < 0.005: the new criterion for determining if something is statistically significant, becoming a far more stringent likelihood of 0.5%, rather than the 5% it has been at for almost a century.