WORLD OF FIGURES: Were presidential election results arrived at using a formula?

Saturday September 2 2017

Supreme Court justices line up on Tuesday. Mr Raila Odinga, declared loser of the August 8 election by the electoral commission, is challenging the re-election of President Uhuru Kenyatta. A ruling is expected to be read in Nairobi on Friday. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Supreme Court judges. They have quashed the re-election of President Uhuru Kenyatta. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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“Complete, utter, Absolute, diabolical nonsense!” Those were the words of Martin Wyatt, my Form 2 mathematics teacher at Chania High School 36 years ago. He was reacting to answer that a pupil had given in class. I cannot remember the question but that statement was cemented in my mind for the rest of my life!

Those words came back to me early last week as I listened to the proceedings of the presidential petition at the Supreme Court. An expert swore an affidavit in an attempt to prove that the results were generated from a computer using a certain formula.

In the court filings, he presented a graph showing the votes for Uhuru Kenyatta plotted against those for Raila Odinga as the counting progressed. He claimed that he had monitored the results streaming through the public internet portal from about 5:15 pm on August 8. The data fitted to a straight line very well.

He then determined the equation of this line and found it to be y = 1.2045x + 183,546; where y represents Uhuru’s votes and x is Raila’s. So far, so good. But then he made the illogical conclusion this must have been the formula used to generate the results!

Now, in science, there are two kinds of equations: empirical and theoretical. An empirical equation is one that is derived from experimental data. You start with some data and then you search for an equation that fits to it.

A theoretical equation originates from a scientific theory; then experiments are designed to test whether the data agrees with the theory. Here you start with the equation and then test it with data.

What the expert presented was an empirical equation derived from available data (the election results). It does not in any way prove that the data was generated from his equation!

He then does an even stranger thing: he uses this equation to “predict” other points on the straight line. Of course the “predictions” will be very accurate: after all, the equation came from the data!

Now a closer look at his graph reveals that the first data point shows Uhuru with slightly more than one million votes and Raila with slightly less than a million. Anyone who was watching the results on TV at around 5:15 pm knows this is not true! At that time, the total votes counted was less than 5,000.

Before you ask why I am sharing this so late after the fact, I offered to give this opinion but was not invited to the court. Now that the verdict has been given, the subject is no longer sub judice.       Twitter: @MungaiKihanya