Polygraph Screening for Sex Offenders: Bad Science, Even Worse Policy

Of the many variations on Martin Niemoller’s famous ‘First they came for…’ speech I’ve seen kicking around the Internet none, so far as I can recall, has ever started with the line ‘First they came for the sex offenders”. As population sub-groups go, it’s difficult to think of many that are less likely to attract any significant levels of public sympathy with ratcheting up the ante to the level of prolific serial killers and murderous despots but nevertheless there are still times when it necessary to speak out on behalf of the basic rights of people that one is instinctively inclined to despise, not least when those rights are to be unjustly and unfairly threatened by the state, as… Read more »

Harriet Harman, the BBC and Those ‘Disappearing’ Female Presenters

A little over a month ago you may recall that there was a bit of a short-lived furore over claims that female TV presenters routinely disappear from our screens once they reach the age of 50. The source of this claim was a Labour Party policy review group with the rather ostentatious title of the “Commission on Older Women” and, more specifically, Labour’s current Deputy Leader, Harriet Harman who, let’s be honest, has more than enough previous form when it comes to statistics abuse to justify checking her figures yourself even if she were to tell you that two plus two equals four. To give a quick recap, the headline claims that appeared just over a month ago in the New… Read more »

How Big Is Online Porn?

I’ve spent quite a bit of time over the last three weeks or so debunking a variety of spurious claims about online porn. Amanda Platell claimed to have watched a child porn video she found using Google, but that proved to be an old commercial porn video in which the female performer was at least 18 years old at the time it was made. The Internet Watch Foundation claimed that 1.5 million people in Britain have ‘stumbled across’ child porn online, but it’s ‘study’ turned out to be nothing more than a dubiously constructed opinion poll and the IWF’s own data shows that around three out of every four web pages reported to it by the public as containing child porn turn… Read more »

Google and Child Porn-Related Search Engine Traffic

Warning: May contain actual evidence. Three weeks ago, I published a couple of articles in the space of two days that conclusively debunked Amanda Platell’s claim that it was easy to find child pornography online using nothing more than Google proving, first, that a porn video she described watching in her article was actually a legally produced commercial porn video and, second, that the female performer in the video, whom she described as being ‘in her early teens’ was at least 18, if not 19 years old at the time the video was made, way back in 2001. In writing those articles, I chose my words carefully in order to quietly run a little experiment. You see although I’m no SEO expert, I… Read more »

Sex, Lies and Porn Statistics

The latest newspaper to jump on the burgeoning anti-porn bandwagon is the Sunday Times, which recently put its name to a “symposium” on the “dangers to children of online pornography” in conjunction with the Tory Think-tank Policy Exchange:

The Sunday Times is organising a symposium on the dangers to children of online pornography. The aims of the event, which will take place at the Policy Exchange in London tomorrow, are to raise awareness of the issues surrounding online pornography and provide a forum for a range of experts to discuss the growing crisis caused by its easy access for children. Keynote speakers include: Gail Dines – author of Pornland and Professor of Sociology at Wheelock College, Boston will be talking about… Read more »

Have 1.5 million adults really “stumbled across” online child porn?

Having parked its [septic] tanks on Google’s lawn, the media’s efforts to generate a full blown moral panic around the existence of online pornography continued this morning with an appearance on the BBC’s Breakfast News programme by Susie Hargreaves, tbe current CEO of the Internet Watch Foundation. To be honest, I wasn’t paying too much at the time but Hargreaves tripped my bullshit detector by casually claiming that the IWF had done some sort of research that apparently showed that 1.5 million people had accidentally run across child porn while surfing teh Interwebs. 1.5 MILLION..? No… there’s something seriously screwy going on there but, of course, one should always check primary sources before dismissing dodgy-looking statistical claims out of hand, so off… Read more »

Online Child Porn – What the Papers Aren’t Telling You.

In the wake of the convictions of Stuart Hazell and Mark Bridger for sexually motivated murders of children, the papers are awash with speculative commentaries on online child pornography. The Daily Mail (of course) wants to know ‘What WILL it take for Google to block child porn?’ even though it has yet to admit that it’s own efforts to find any were an abject and utterly embarrassing failure. What we need here, and what no one will get from the press, is a sense of perspective, so let’s look at just a few figures that will help put things into context. How big is the Internet? Well, no one really knows and things are changing all the time, so… Read more »

Statistics Laundering, Online Pornography and the Daily Mail

For this article I’m going to return to a subject I covered yesterday, that of ‘porn statistics’ or, to be more precise, statistics published widely on both the internet and by newspapers and other media organisation which purport to show that large numbers of children and young people are encountering or accessing pornography via the internet. To quickly recap where we are with this issue so far, yesterday I showed that a ‘statistic’ cited by the Daily Mail while reporting a survey of parents conducted by the National Association of Head Teachers, which found that 90% wanted some sort of default setting on computers and smartphones that would block access to ‘adult material’, actually originated from pretty much nowhere in 2001 in… Read more »

Marriage Equality, Conservative Politics and the Religious Right

Ahead of today’s House of Commons debate on the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Bill and the raft of wrecking amendments tabled, for the most part, by Tory MPs, I think that it’s well worth reflecting on exactly where opposition to equal marriage is coming from and, particularly, how that opposition is being organised. As far as public opinion is concerned, YouGov President Peter Kellner lays out the actual position with admirable clarity:

The passions of grass-roots Tories who are bitterly opposed to same-sex marriage are not shared by the wider electorate. Most voters back a change in the law – and very few opponents are willing to switch their votes because of this issue. Overall, YouGov’s latest poll for the Sunday… Read more »

Step Away from the Statistics, Harriet…

In just the last week or so we’ve seen Iain Duncan Smith publicly rebuked by the UK Statistics Authority for making claims about the government’s policy of capping benefits that were “unsupported by the official statistics published by the department” and Michael Gove caught using unscientific polls commissioned by UKTV Gold and Premier Inn in an effort to dismiss serious criticism of his new National Curriculum by leading academics. One should not, therefore, be surprised to discover that a poll conducted by Ipsos Mori on behalf of the Royal Statistics Society and Kings College London shows that just 9% of the general public believe that politicians use figures accurately when talking about their policies while just 7% place any kind of trust… Read more »