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.

Anarchy for the UK. Ish.

Britain’s back-room negotiations to establish a national, extrajudicial Internet censorship regime

Ed Vaizey, the UK Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries has admitted that he is in talks with ISPs to create a voluntary national firewall. Big copyright companies would petition to have sites they don’t like added to the secret national blacklist, and the ISPs would decide — without transparency or judicial review — whether to silently block Britons from seeing the censored sites.

Peter from the Open Rights Group adds, “Website blocking is a bad idea, especially on a self-regulatory basis where vital judicial oversight is bypassed. The good news is that he has promised to invite civil society groups to participate in future discussions on the matter. You can help explain the problems by writing to your MP at ORG’s website.” Minister confirms site blocking discussions (Thanks, PeterBradwell, via Submitterator!)

Front-line report from Trafalgar Square paints a radically different picture


Forget what you’ve seen on the BBC and Sky about yesterday’s protest/”riot” in Trafalgar Square; the New Statesman‘s Laurie Penny was on the barricades (and apparently, there was a moment when the barricades were on her), and she’s seen something altogether different from what the mainstream coverage depicts. If you read only one account of the protests, make it this one (and you should really read more than one!).

Minutes after the fights begin in Trafalgar square, so does the backlash. Radio broadcasters imply that anyone who left the pre-ordained march route is a hooligan, and police chiefs rush to assure the public that this “mindless violence” has “nothing to do with protest.”

The young people being battered in Trafalgar square, however, are neither mindless nor violent. In front of the lines, a teenage girl is crying and shaking after being shoved to the ground. “I’m not moving, I’m not moving,” she mutters, her face smeared with tears and makeup. “I’ve been on every protest, I won’t let this government destroy our future without a fight. I won’t stand back, I’m not moving.” A police officer charges, smacking her with his baton as she flings up her hands.

The cops cram us further back into the square, pushing people off the plinths where they have tried to scramble for safety. By now there are about 150 young people left in the square, and only one trained medic, who has just been batoned in the face; his friends hold him up as he blacks out, and carry him to the police lines, but they won’t let him leave. By the makeshift fire, I meet the young man whose attempted arrest started all this. “I feel responsible,” he said, “I never wanted any of this. None of us did”

What really happened in Trafalgar Square

(Image: March for the Alternative, Nelson’s Column Occupation, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from blahflowers’s photostream)

Libya: Woman struggles to tell foreign journalists of kidnapping, rape by Qaddafi militia

A Libyan woman burst into the hotel housing the foreign press in Tripoli Saturday morning and fought off security forces as she told journalists that she had been raped and beaten by members of the Qaddafi militia. After nearly an hour, she was dragged away from the hotel screaming.” (New York Times)

Her name is Eman al-Obeidy. CNN’s Nic Robertson was present, and his tweeted account is screengrabbed here. “CNN camera was violently snatched, systematically smashed to pieces and video footage stolen,” he wrote. “Some journalists were beaten in blatant display of regime thuggery.”

“Journalists are demanding to see her. David Kirkpatrick of the New York Times and I went to officials in charge who claimed they don’t know who took her, or where she was taken.”

A related Reuters item is here. Above: A related Sky News clip. The UK Telegraph also has video coverage. (via @acarvin).

Nuclear reactors of the world: vintage wall charts


Image: Wylfa Magnox, Wylfa, Anglesey, UK. Wall chart insert, Nuclear Engineering, 1965

Now seems like a good week to revisit this set of 105 reactor wall charts, uploaded by the University of New Mexico. The dates next to each chart relate to the issue of Nuclear Engineering International magazine in which they first appeared. Ronald Knief, a nuclear engineer from Sandia National Laboratories, assembled the image collection.

More about the images, and links to the complete set, here at Bibliodyssey. Here’s the direct Flickr set link.

(via BB Submitterator, thanks cinemajay)

Libel reform in the UK: telling the truth won’t be illegal any longer?

At long last, the British government has introduced a libel reform bill that seeks to end “libel tourism” (dragging people into UK courts for cases that have little or no connection to the UK) and will allow the truth to be a defense against a charge of libel (amazingly, this has not been the case until now). I haven’t read the bill yet, but the Guardian‘s summary of the proposal makes it sound very good:

Clarke, unveiling the draft bill on Tuesday alongside minister of state for justice Lord McNally, said the bill would “ensure that anyone who makes a statement of fact or expresses an honest opinion can do so with confidence”.

“The right to speak freely and debate issues without fear of censure is a vital cornerstone of a democratic society,” he added.

“In recent years, though, the increased threat of costly libel actions has begun to have a chilling effect on scientific and academic debate and investigative journalism.”

The bill includes a new statutory defence of truth which will replace the current common law defence of justification. It also includes a statutory defence of honest opinion replacing the current common law defence of fair and honest comment.

Government unveils libel law reforms

Articulated cardboard Cthulhu


Eddbagenal sez, “Students at Strode College in the UK staged a ‘cardboard costume’ catwalk show including this awesome articulated Cthulhu headpiece made entirely from old box cartons.” Technically, the description calls it an octopus, but if that’s not an elder god great old one, I’m not a damned soul

Cardboard Catwalk (Thanks, eddbagenal, via Submitterator!)

Tips from a “prolific dumpster diver”

A self-described “prolific dumpster diver” in the UK was mass-interviewed on Reddit yesterday, and wrote some detailed, intriguing, and potentially useful descriptions of how he lives and thrives on trash:

Besides food, what are some of the other products that you come across most frequently and use?

Nothing has such a short shelf-life as food, so other things don’t get come across really that regularly. Charity shops are always VERY varied so not much same-ness there, except for foot bath/massagers. Oddly I see one at least every couple of months. CRT TVs are common, as are george foreman-style grills. Toiletries are pretty common, and there is waaaaay too much washing powder/liquid for us to use as it apparently leaks often. Flowers are really really common, we always have fresh flowers on the kitchen table and I’m gradually adding the kind of pot-plants you get in a supermarket to our small garden… Yep, the supermarket tends to throw out £50 worth of flowers per week! Currently we have three bouquets of lillies in the house.

IAmA prolific dumpster diver. I have not bought any food for the last 6 months. AMA!

40,000 P2P lawsuits dismissed – bad week for copyright trolls


Judges in California, Washington DC, Texas, and West Virginia have severed P2P lawsuits against unnamed John Does, effectively dismissing the cases against 40,000 American Internet users. Some users are still getting notices from their ISPs, though, and EFF has a spreadsheet you can consult if you’ve gotten a notice (spread the word!).

The plaintiffs in these cases must now re-file against almost all of the Does individually rather than suing them en masse. These rulings may have a significant impact on the copyright trolls’ business model, which relies on being able to sue thousands of Does at once with a minimum of administrative expense. The cost of filing suit against each Doe may prove prohibitively expensive to plaintiffs’ attorneys who are primarily interested in extracting quick, low-hassle settlements.

Over 40,000 Does Dismissed In Copyright Troll Cases

Super-wealthy clothes horses and their sartorial habits

The WSJ profiles a group of super-rich clothes-horses who pay full price for designer frocks costing tens of thousands of dollars. One hedge fund manager’s wife who bought a $12,000 Alexander McQueen considers herself a “curator” and hopes “someday someone will find [my clothes] important and significant.” Not entirely impossible: fashion is a kind of art, private collectors sometimes amass collections that others find interesting later.

But then there’s this: A 28-year-old plastic surgeon’s wife only wears her clothes once, and sometimes changes them several times a night.

“If you’re going to a gala for some kind of disease and then you go to a hip art event, you can’t wear the same thing,” Ms. Chiu says.

She usually attends New York Fashion Week but skipped this season to attend the Grammys. She isn’t worried about missing something good.

“Everyone has their antennas up for me,” she says of the personal shoppers she works with. “If they see something cute, they’ll send me a pic.” Chanel, Carolina Herrera and Valentino are among her favorite labels, which she buys at Neiman Marcus, Saks and the designers’ own boutiques.

After she has worn a gown once, Ms. Chiu says she stores it at her California home. “Sometimes I’ll donate them to charities, but I would rather buy them new clothes than give them my old clothes,” Ms. Chiu said.

Who Buys These Clothes? They Do (via Kottke)

(Image: Mother Jones)