More on painting by the numbers

Last week, I hurriedly posted 'Paint a picture of immigration by the numbers with the Mail', which could have done with a better title. In it, I looked at the fantastically misleading Daily Mail article ''Immigrants here for good': Half of Poles plan to stay in UK'. In short, the article followed the template of the Daily Mail immigration story by withdrawing the headline's claim, exaggerating figures, misrepresenting a study, referring to the paper's previous distortions and including a plug for MigrationWatch. I wonder if James Slack has a checklist taped to the side of his monitor.

I also said this:
I strongly suspect that the study included an option for people who hadn't decided how long they were going to stay at all - not just whether they were going to stay permanently - so of the many options, they hadn't chosen one. Of course, I can't be sure, but even if we give the paper the benefit of the doubt and assume that the question was only about whether these people wanted to stay permanently, it's incredibly dishonest to count don't knows as definitely going to stay - or even planning to stay.
But since I couldn't get hold of a copy of the study itself, I couldn't be sure.

So I decided to go one better than finding a copy of the study, by contacting one of its authors and asking him. Michal Garapich has kindly given me permission to quote him in a follow-up post.

First things first, his initial reaction:
To be honest I have never felt so bad as social scientist seeing things like these. I am in the process of writing a letter to that journalist. One reason is that there exists only a Polish version of the report, hence there was a multiplication of stupidity here - both the interpreter and the journalist. Stupidity or ignorance, doesn't matter but the fact remains that my name is put under a very misleading piece.
I can't say that came as a surprise. Neither did the fact that Mr Garapich wanted to find out who I was, since he was careful of who he spoke to. Once I'd done that, he kindly sent me an email setting out the problems. Here it is, with minimal editing:
It is true that 15% of my respondents declared that they live here permanently. 26% are here on short term basis (6 months-2 years) and 30% are undecided. Now, to be honest it is all down to good will and inteligence to figure out what these numbers mean. The Mail lacks both.

Here however it is important to understand that this is a very diverse collection of people and of course some will stay, some will come back etc, some will continue to circulate (9% of our sample expressed that they are seasonal). The picture is complex. Apart from the question on whever this is good or bad for the UK economy (and the recent IPPR report stated that this has a positive impact) the problem is the creation of a perception that all Poles are either this or that. They are not.

My survey - in the same way that the survey I did last year for BBC Newsnight (see www.surrey.ac.uk/arts/cronem - very similar results) show that some will stay, some will surely go back and another group keeps options open - in today's risk society a quite rational way of behavior.
Now, I don't want to be smug, but I will anyway (if only for the benefit of the recent anonymous commentator on 'Careful now! The safety of this information could be questionable'). It seems that I was right, in that there was only a 'don't know' option relating to how long people intended to stay - and not one specifically relating to whether or not they intended to stay permanently. Mr Garapich also kindly forwarded me the relevant data table from the study. Blogger doesn't seem to like me trying to post the whole table, but the option is translated as 'Don't know/difficult to say' for how long respondents intended to stay. NOT for 'thinking about staying for the rest of their lives'. NOT for 'Planning to stay' 'for good'.

Now, more:

This doesn't change that the sentence in Mail piece:

"A further 30 per cent are thinking about staying for the rest of their lives. Even those Poles who plan to return home intend to spend long periods in Britain, according to the survey by Mig Research"

is misleading manipulation. I never wrote that 30% are thinking that and the wording here suggests that this is on top of the 26% that can be seen as long term migrants.

Also the use of the word "long" is misleading, since for some migrants 6 months is pretty long.
Just thought that point was worth repeating. How about the rest of the story:
The rest of the piece is further misleading the readers. You cannot take Home Office figures at face value, because a lot of people came back [to Poland]. The [Worker Registration Scheme] numbers are cumulative and they don't reflect the dynamics of these flows - people come and go very frequently.

Mentioning "one million" is pure speculation, a rumour, nothing else. I have never seen any sure data on this. True, Polish statistics mention that around 1.5 million Poles have worked abroad, but this includes all EU and US, and is mainly seasonal, short term. If 1.5m economically active people would disappear from Polish labour market (Poland has one of the lowest % of people active economically in relation to overall population), it would probably collapse economically from one day to another. Instead the economy is growing there.
Which is also much as I thought it would be (hi anonymous). The 'million' figure is most probably speculation and not actually based on any empirical study. So it seems the Mail - or at least James Slack - has raised the exaggeration game by not only counting every Eastern European who ever applied to work in the UK ever, but including a figure that comes from god knows where, which adds a few hundred thousand on top of the already exaggerated figure. Nice eh?

There you go. That's nothing that anyone familiar with the Mail wouldn't know, but it's nice to hear it from someone actually involved in the study the Mail's decided to tell fibs about.

Thanks very much indeed to Michal Garapich of Roehampton University.

1 comment:

eric the fish said...

It comes to something when you have to conduct your own interviews to get the real story.
As I've said before, papers can print their own agenda if they like but to lie and manipulate the facts and figures more than a Met composite of De Menedes (allegedly)is disgraceful. Unfortunately Slack has form for this. Maybe academics will be cautious when speaking to the 4th Estate.