I used to analyse data for a living. It’s fascinating to take a whole load of numbers, postcodes and geodemographic data (in my case) and come up with something meaningful, particularly if it makes a pretty map or graphic. I haven’t done any hardcore number crunching for years, and sometimes I miss it. What I did this morning hardly counts, but it was a little bit of fun.

Religious-idiot Richard Carvath did some primary school maths and was awfully pleased with the result. In the last 5 years 80,000 people have entered into civil partnerships. If the population of the UK is 60 million then you just divide one by the other and multiply by 100 to find that a mere 0.13% of the British population is interested in civil partnership! This is so small that it really means that nobody is interested! Civil partnership is irrelevant so we should stop doing them! (We’ll pass over Carvath’s usual bleating about how civil partnerships are destroying the institution of marriage. I don’t think he can comprehend that it can’t be both insignificant and a clear and present danger at the same time.)

Of course, that number is meaningless. For a start,around 19% of the country’s population is aged under 16. Take them out of the numbers and you have an adult population of around 48.6 million. Do the maths again and now 0.16% of the adult population is in a civil partnership. Still a tiny proportion, you might say, but this is still a flawed number. Most of the population aren’t gay- the majority of people would qualify for a “normal” marriage.

Carvath has insisted that only 1% of people are homosexual, a more commonly held figure is 10%. So between 1.65% and 16.5% of those eligible have taken up civil partnerships since they were introduced. How many heterosexual marriages have there been in that same period?

Well the Office of National Statistics says there were 232,990 marriages in England and Wales in 2008. Perhaps the Scots don’t get married. Rounding that up to 250,000 to give the straights a chance, that’s half a million people getting married every year, 2.5 million married people within five years. Between 5.2% and 5.72% of the straight adult population has got married within the last 5 years. If homosexuals are really as tiny a minority as Carvath likes to think then the numbers actually show that they’re over three times more likely to get civil partnered than straights are to get married. More realistic figures give marriage the threefold advantage over civil partnership.

The article Carvath cribbed his figures from crows about an increase in the number of civil partnerships being dissolved- 351 in 2009. Per thousand people married, this means that around 8.75 will get divorced. For the record the equivalent number for straight marriages in 2008 was 11.2. So it’s not clear what they were trying to prove.

What has my data mining proved? Mostly that if you want meaningful statistics you have to do a little bit of work establishing context etc.. It’s not clear whether Carvath was behaving like a tabloid- working out the worst looking number and assuming his audience are too dumb and gullible to question it or spot the logical flaws- or he really thought he was doing some clever analysis. I’m normally a charitable chap, but experience tells me that the latter is more likely than the former, not that either speak well for the man.