Scare story checklist

There's a theme developing at the moment, involving how articles get reproduced over and over again as if they're new by the Daily Mail.

Well, via the MailWatch forums (cheers bairy), I've seen that there's a new one to add to the list.

Back last May, I covered a couple of Mail articles in '24% of Polish people want to kill us in our beds!' The two articles I covered were '1 in 4 Eastern bloc migrants wants to stay here for good' and 'One third of all Eastern Europeans want to stay in Britain premanently', both published on the same day, both covering the same figures and both written by James Slack. I'm not sure which story made the paper version.

Either Slack or a sub seems to have been confused, not knowing whether a quarter or a third of Eastern Europeans intended to stay here for good. Luckily, Slack was on hand to let us know the real number a few months later in ''Immigrants here for good': Half of Poles plan to stay in UK'. One of the authors of the study that the article was supposedly based on decided to write in response to Slack saying:
Firstly, the survey had nothing to do with the numbers of Polish nationals in the UK. The aim of the study was to determine their media preferences and willingness to vote in coming elections in Poland. Let me list sentence by sentence the instances of misleading parts in your piece
Which he then does, in fine style. But now the Mail readers all know - half of Poles want to stay here.

Now it seems that the number has slipped back again, with Saturday's 'One in every four Poles in Britain plan to stay for life, says survey'. Don't you wish the guy would make up his bloody mind?

Bairy has done a good job of dismantling this particular house of cards in the MailWatch forums so register to read it if you haven't already. I thought I'd go through it myself by each point on the checklist Slack must have sellotaped to his monitor for whenever he bashes out another scare story.

Does the headline bear any relation to reality?

It says that 1 in 4 intend to stay forever, and the story claims to be based on does include a table that says that 144 out of 636 respondents said they didn't intend to return to Poland, so on the face of it, the headline is accurate.

How about the article itself, is that telling the complete truth?

Check. Of course not. The main lie is one of ommission, which is coupled with this line:
It followed an admission from Britain's consul in Warsaw that the current record levels of migration - which have seen more than 700,000 Poles arrive in only three years - may continue.
This gives the impression that we're talking about Poles that arrived in Britain after Poland's accession to the EU, especially when you consider that almost every other Mail story about Polish migration is about that.

But this story isn't. According to the survey this story is based on 172 of the 636 (or 27% of) respondents to the survey had arrived prior to May 2004. This is significant as the longer someone has been in the country, the more likely they are to have decided to stay. Plus, prior to May 2004, the nature of migration to the UK from Poland was different. Those who came to the UK then and are still here are likely to have intended to stay for a longer period in the first place, since the type of seasonal migration that's possible now wasn't possible then.

Also, if a significant number of Poles decide to go back to Poland after a short space of time, then it follows that most of the people who arrived in the UK prior to 2005 or 2006, or even 2007, will have gone home. So asking people who have already decided to stay will necessarily skew the results towards those who don't intend to go back to Poland swiftly, since those that do will already have left. But this is more of a criticism of the survey itself than the Mail article.

Have there been any contortions done with the figures?

Check. Slack tries to apply these figures to the 700,000 Eastern Europeans he claims have arrived in the UK since 2004. As regular readers will know, the 700,000 figure he uses is already exaggerated as it includes everybody who ever applied to the Worker Registration Scheme, including those who never arrived and those who's applications were rejected.

On top of that though, can you think of a problem with the idea of using findings from a survey that questioned only people who remained in the UK (and not anyone who returned to Poland) and then trying to apply it accross the board to every Polish person who ever applied to come to the UK?

That's it - lots and lots of Polish people will already have gone home. You can only get an accurate reading of how many Pole in the UK these figures apply to by measuring people who are currently in the UK, not everybody who applied to come here, even the ones who didn't ever arrive, and those who have already left. So when Slack says:
Based on estimates from the Home Office's worker registration scheme, that would mean more than 160,000 Poles and their families staying for good.
He's talking rubbish.

The story also says:
The report also found the majority of Poles were not over-qualified for the jobs they are taking in the UK, amid reports of graduates working in factories or stacking shelves.

Some 65 per cent of respondents said they were working in jobs matching their qualifications.
Meaning that 35% are. That's a greater number than intend to stay here - the number this very article is using to claim that predictions that the majority of Poles will go back to Poland are wrong.

Has the dodgy 700,000 arrivals figure been parroted as if 700,000 people are still in the UK?

Check. See above.

Has the story sufficiently played about with quotes to create a false impression?

Check. It says this:
Received wisdom in Whitehall was also that, after the initial influx, the vast majority of Poles would return home.
Okay, that's an unattributed opinion rather than a quote, but if this story's headline is right, then the received wisdom in Whitehall is correct. 75% intend to go back to Poland.

Has there been a quote from a Tory MP?

Unfortunately not. Slack is slacking.

Has MigrationWatch been bigged up?


Is the quote from the Home Office left until the very end of the article to make it look less trustworthy?


So, Slack's managed to miss two checkpoints for creating a really good scare story - the headline and a dunderheaded quote by a Tory MP.

He's managed a great Daily Mail contradiction though, which is a bit of a bonus. Back in April, Slack bashed out another outraged screed about immigrants being able to vote in UK local elections in 'A million immigrants can vote next month'. In this one, he doesn't like the fact that none of the Poles in the survey voted in the same elections, using it as evidence of poor integration.

Of course, the guy should be able to report on new studies whenever they're published, and confirmation bias will mean he won't thoroughly check whether each study holds water, but does he have to present each as if they're new and further muck around with figures and quotes?


Chris said...

Mailwatch's thread on this is here. You don't need to register to read, only to post.

The thing I've noticed about Slacky is that he doesn't seem that bright. When he's not blatantly contradicting himself a few paragraphs apart (seriously, does he write each one in a different month and not read what he's written?), he just doesn't seem to understand what he's written and thus his articles look fragmented and all over the place.

The really scary part is that although anyone could very easily pull apart his reasoning and show it to be total rubbish, Mail readers still lap it up, still come out with the same tired old comments and they never seem to equate past stories to present stories. I look at the mail for maybe 20 mins a day (to see what causes cancer today, of course) and I can notice this trend, you'd think avid readers would pick it up.

Five Chinese Crackers said...

Ah - didn't realise you didn't need to register just to read for some reason.

I'm not sure that Slacky isn't that bright - I just think he doesn't care how accurate what he knocks out is. He works for a paper that values the anti-immigration scare story, he knows that stories that don't fit that line are unlikely to end up in the paper so he tries as hard as he can to crowbar every story into that particular box.

The main question for me is - does he actually believe what he writes or is he deliberately making stuff up? The way he deliberately ignores opposing evidence - if he's not twisting it beyond recognition - and ignores disclaimers telling him that his interpretation is wrong before he even starts suggests the latter. But you never know.

I think you might be right. He could just be stupid.

Chris said...

You know, I've just pulled apart his article about One in 11 British Muslims backs suicide bombers, says Brown aide (it's in the thread I linked earlier).

In this article he not only proves the headline to be a lie, but the whole story is based on unproven wild speculation by one man - all of which Slack then presents as absolute fact.

His obsession with immigrants and portraying them in a bad light almost reads of xenophobia and his obsession with disproving his own headlines and contradicting one thing with another in the same article smacks of pretty much typical Mail journalism.

I don't think he's literally stupid, I just think he knows he can write any old rubbish and Mail readers will follow it avidly.
At mailwatch we've proven more than once that some people don't read past the headline before they're banging away their comments.

Does he believe what he writes? You can't twist things and lie to the extent he does as often as he does and be oblivious about it. I think he knows full well he's talking rubbish.