Reading this article in the British Daily Express based on data published by the Numbeo website reminds us of the famous adage, “don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story.”  It’s so overused it’s gone beyond cliché, especially nowadays, when fake news fills our social media accounts and dominates what passes for “the media.”

It also reminds us of the quote Mark Twain made famous, attributing it to Benjamin Disraeli: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

And so is the case with the “report” in this British daily signed by “journalist” Esther Marshall, reporting on the ten most dangerous cities in Spain according to the “statistics” found on the Numbeo website, which is just the perfect storm of ignorance and lack of professionalism.

The list is as follows:

      1. Bilbao
      2. Barcelona
      3. Palma de Mallorca
      4. Seville
      5. Madrid
      6. Alicante
      7. Valencia
      8. Malaga
      9. San Sebastián

Let’s start at the beginning.  The Numbeo data, as explained on the website itself, “are based on the opinions of visitors to this website in the last three years.”  That means, all it’s taking into account to make up these numbers are the opinions of its own visitors, and not any data from police or other valid source that can be checked.

Who goes to a website to leave a review of a city?  Well, in most cases, those who had a problem during their visit.  That means that only a few are leaving their opinions, and in most cases, said opinions are negative.  To that list we must add “locals” who are sure they live in the worst place on earth because the party that would “kick out the damned immigrants” isn’t in power.

So, what we have is an infinitesimally small minority of people that have had problems, known in statistics as a “non-representative sample” who are being touted as a very representative sample in this website’s statistics.

None of this would really have gone anywhere beyond being simple a model of how not to collect and represent statistics were it not for a “journalist” at a widely-read “newspaper” using those data with no criterion, filter, or explanation, and then writing an “article” about the most dangerous cities in Spain for tourists.

So, this wanton disregard for critical thinking or analysis on the part of the “journalist” has ended up putting Bilbao at the top of a list of the most dangerous cities, when in reality it’s preceded by many others, or putting San Sebastian on the list at all, when it’s renown for being one of the safest in Spain.

The true data on crime by autonomous community and main city can be found on the Balance de Criminalidad primer trimestre de 2022 published by the Ministry of the Interior.  Another good breakdown of crime (though based on data from 2019) can be found on the Zenit website, where there is also a list of cities based on how “safe” they are.  Ridiculously easy to find hard, reliable data, isn’t it?

Now it’s true that safety in some Basque cities, especially Bilbao, could be improved.  No one would doubt that crime could be brought down everywhere, here, and in many cities in English, which are among the least safe in Europe, according to the “statistics” at Numbeo.  But to go from that to placing them on a list in that order, there’s a mighty gap.

What’s sad about this is that many readers of this newspaper will believe this fake information, and other media may decide to run with it, especially if they’re as careless as the Esther Marshall and the Daily Express.

Daily Express – 26/7/2022 – Great Britain

Spain’s most dangerous city for tourists named – full list of crime hotspots

While most Spanish holidays are trouble-free, tourists could be more likely to encounter crime in a few popular destinations.

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