The mandatory tweets of the self-righteous vacillating centrist stats bore: a user’s guide

Smug man
That’s you, that is, smuggo. And me, obviously. (Photo: Getty)

Sure, you can tweet like a Leftie. Or you can tweet like a Rightie. But what about those of us who smugly hold ourselves above such petty tribal considerations? What if you look down your smarmy nose at frothing Right-wingers and deluded Left-wingers with equal disdain? Where is the guide for the oh-so-superior evidence-based rationalist tosspot?

Don’t worry, ladies and gentlemen. Help is at hand.

1) “I think you’ll find it’s a bit more complicated than that”. This is the heart of everything that the Self-Righteous Vacillating Centrist Stats Bore does. Take the biggest story of the day, which, with any luck, the goblin hordes of Right and Left are fighting over furiously – new ONS stats show that Tory education cuts are causing emphysema in dogs in the South East, or something. Gently show that both sides have failed to take into account some confounding variable about canine lung disorders, and suggest that they haven’t really got the hang of statistics. Sit back with a look of superiority on your face.

2) “Correlation doesn’t equal causation”. This one’s getting a bit overused, so maybe dress it up as “the third-variable problem” and draw an analogy of ice cream and drownings. Trot this one out whenever a Conservative suggests that welfare reform has got people back into work, or when a Leftie angrily points out that the number of children in poverty has gone up since the Tories got in, or something. Sit back with a look of superiority on your face.

3) “On the one hand, on the other hand”: Tricky to get right, because you’re trying to fit an awful lot of smug detail into a very short 140-character space. But you need to make it clear that you can see both sides of the argument here, you’re not blinkered (unlike some people who we won’t mention) by your ideological purity, and that yes, of course, that Charles Manson chap made a lot of mistakes, but in some ways etc etc. Sit back with a look of superiority on your face.

4) “QTWTAIN”. Or “Question To Which The Answer Is No”. This is, I should admit, the brainchild of John Rentoul of the Independent – noting the popular headline trope of making a story sound more exciting by asking some utterly ludicrous question which is shot down by the second par – but it has taken on a life of its own. Find a piece, for preference in The Daily Mail, with a headline like “Were aliens present on the Grassy Knoll the day Kennedy was shot?” Tweet it with a weary “QTWTAIN”. For extra points, find a particularly egregious or nonsensical example (“Is Taylor Swift the new Jesus?”) and add a “QTWTAIWTF?” Sit back with a look of superiority on your face.

5) “Of course, religion has some positive aspects”. You’re an atheist, of course you are, because you’re rational and evidence-based and you know that we have no need of the God hypothesis. But you’ve also read Jonathan Haidt and you vaguely know who Emile Durkheim is and you’re happy to bandy around terms like “social capital”. Make a point about the social role of churches. Sit back with a look of superiority on your face.

6) “They’re not evil, you know”. Ah, how pleasing it is to remind people that you’re capable of seeing past someone’s flaws to the decent – if, of course, not-as-clever-as-you – person within. Those Tories and their homophobia! Those Labourites and their fear of the free market! They know not what they do, bless them. But some naughty people are not as enlightened as you. Remind them with your most infuriating insouciance that, you know, it is possible to disagree with someone without being enemies. Sit back with a look of superiority on your face.

7) “Interesting”. This is your go-to compliment for linking to a story. In just one word it shows that you’re not so giddy as to actually get excited about anything – after all, you know all about this subject, this is just a tiny little extra piece of information – and that you’re much more concerned with the intellectual debate than about proving your “side” (because, of course, you don’t have a “side”) right. And, of course, if it turns out that the thing you’ve linked to is a load of cobblers, you haven’t actually said you agree with it. Sit back with a look of superiority on your face.

8) “I haven’t got around to Breaking Bad yet”. You will, obviously, but you’re so busy. Fran-tic-al-ly. With, you know, all the blog posts. And the endless bloody tweeting, Jesus, it’s like a treadmill. Make it clear that you’re a man or woman of exceptional taste, but you’re also struggling for time in between redrafting chapter 23 of your book about Arthur Cecil Pigou. Sit back with a look of superiority on your face.

9) “The plural of anecdote isn’t data”. Someone tells you that their grandmother died in squalor on an NHS bed. Someone tells you that they got mugged recently on a city street. Someone tells you that their grandfather lived to 94 and smoked three packs a day. Ignore these people. Express despair that the country believes their own experiences over the cold hard truths of data. Sit back with a look of superiority on your face.

10) “Things really aren’t that bad, you know”.  Oh, sure, the frantic hordes are hurling the death of Britain back and forth: the welfare state is collapsing (because of the Tories), the country is drowning in a sea of illegal immigrants (because of Labour), doom, gloom, death, despair. But you know that it’s not as bad as all that. You’ve read Steven Pinker recently and you know that violence and crime is declining and since you live in a relatively nice bit of London that seems pretty plausible to you. Smugly remind the poor benighted masses that they’re just not as good at reading the statistics as you are. Sit back with a look of superiority on your face. Log off.

• This is an article about Twitter. So, please, if you think “Twitter is for t**ts”, which someone does under literally every single piece about Twitter ever written, then I would love to hear you say so again. Go for it below!

Read more by Tom Chivers on Telegraph Blogs
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