Misleading government stats and the innumerate media who repeat them
This week’s Bad Science column from Ben Goldacre is an entertaining and frustrating look at the way that the government manipulates statistics with help from a tame and innumerate news media:
The Sun said: “Police have charged nearly 150 people after violent anarchists hijacked the anti-cuts demo and brought terror to London’s streets.” The Guardian republished a Press Association report, headlined: “Cuts protest violence: 149 people charged”. And from the locals, for example, the Manchester Evening News carried “Boy, 17, from Manchester among 149 charged over violence after anti-cuts march”.
In reality, a dozen of these charges related to violence, while 138 are people who were involved in an apparently peaceful occupation of Fortnum and Masons organised by UKUncut, who campaign on tax avoidance.
You will have your own view on whether people should be arrested and charged for standing in a shop as an act of protest. But describing these 150 people as “violent anarchists… who brought terror to London’s streets” is not just misleading: it also makes the police look over 12 times more effective than they really were at charging people who perpetrated acts of violence.