Saturday 9 February 2019

Where credit's due

Tim, of 'More of Less' fame, smiling and sporting a leather jacket

Over the years I've given mixed reviews to Radio 4's statistics show More or Less, especially as regards bias. 

For me though, the latest series is proving (pleasingly) to be much stronger on the pluses than the minuses.

And I'm particularly enjoying the programme's increasing focus on whistle-blowing rubbish BBC reporting.

Episode 1 used Radio 4's Today to illustrate silly "apocalyptic" media headlines and hyped-up 'nanny state' reporting about 'rising' child sugar consumption, suggesting that it was largely fake news.

It then moved on to media misreporting of the rising train fares story, ruling that, in the specific instance of BBC reporting cited, "the fault lies not with the rail industry but with the BBC, which misquoted the industry body The Rail Delivery Group".


Episode 2 then investigated the BBC website for a short documentary on 'intersex surgeries' for saying that that the UN believes as high at 1.7% of the world's population has 'intersex' traits, "roughly the same as people with red hair" [a comparison the programme judged deeply misguided and unhelpful].

The BBC reporter behind it was Megha Mohan, the BBC's BBC Gender & Identity Correspondent.

She cited a UN website, which guestimated that the figure could be as high as 1.7%,

But, as More or Less pointed out, "if you dig a little bit further", that website also says it could be as low as 0.05%.

That's a massive difference. It's the difference between 1 person in 60 [Mogha's version] and 1 person in 2000.

Megha Mohan, leader in global breaking news

And More or Less, on digging further, found that that 1.7% guestimate came from an ideological academic - namely the author of Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality.

More or Less also criticised Megha Mohan's piece for focusing on situations where surgeries are debated, which the programme judged "rare". And, on looking into the surgery figures, More or Less presenter Tim Harford said, "So not 1.7%, but 0.017%". So rare indeed.

Alas, Megha herself had been so proud of this documentary:

Oh dear!

Episode 3, in contrast, showed the BBC News Channel's Carrie Gracie actually doing the right thing and expressing shock at a wild statistic from the charity Refuge's Sandra Horley claiming that domestic violence costs the UK public £66 billion a year, a story the BBC had made a headline story on 21st January. The stats don't add up - as per the BBC's head of statistics - and it's pretty much nonsense..At best Refuge trebled the costs. Carrie - the BBC's most famous wage equality campaigner - clearly knows her stats, even if others in the BBC newsroom don't.

Episode 4 made BBC reporting of the '1/20 UK people are Holocaust deniers' story the starting point for its main story. More or Less cast serious doubt on this figure, for many, many, many reasons - all of which (perhaps hopefully thinking) sounded plausible to me - including a potentially deeply confusing question in the survey. It appears, the programme concluded, as if we're in the still grim but significantly less scary 1-2% territory when it comes to the actual number of Holocaust deniers.

And this week's edition, Episode 5, went a good deal further than I ever expected it too in debunking the BBC's Brexit coverage, specifically the BBC's headline claim (across many platforms) that one-third of the UK's businesses are considering moving operations abroad because of Brexit. Tim Harford described those claims as "bizarre", "not so much Project Fear as Project Wrong", and "not worth taking seriously", and duly outlined why. It's well worth listening to. 

1 comment:

  1. Yes, I noticed the change of direction...very odd.

    I think we can exclude a Damascene conversion. I reckon he went for a big job and didn't get it, because that's classic "Right, if that's how you want to play it...I'm going to tell everyone just how shit this place is..." behaviour.

    Which means one of two things will happen. Either that's the end of More or Less (there's also the alternative explanation he's been told it's coming to an end...and that explains his behaviour) or they give him his promotion somewhere else.


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