The Independent’s ‘Lost Girls’: A Truly Epic Fail in Data Journalism

Okay, quick recap: Yesterday, The Independent Newspaper published an article by its Science Editor, Steve Connor, in which its purports to have uncovered evidence of what it claims to be widespread use of illegal sex-selective abortions by ‘some UK ethnic groups’, all based on a bespoke data set extracted from the 2011 Census data by the Office for National Statistics at the newspaper’s request. I, of course, had a quick look at these claims and came to the conclusion that there were a number of potential problems with the newspaper’s assumptions and analysis, but couldn’t be absolutely sure at the time because I’d not seen the actual data set on which the article was based. That’s now changed. It turns out… Read more »

The Indie’s ‘Lost Girls’ may not be what it appears

Okay, this is a bit of rush job but even in the absence of any data to work with, the Independent’s claim to have uncovered evidence in the 2011 census data that gender selective abortion is being ‘widely used’ by some UK ethnic groups requires n immediate response:

The lost girls: Illegal abortion widely used by some UK ethnic groups to avoid daughters ‘has reduced female population by between 1,500 and 4,700’ The illegal abortion of female foetuses solely to ensure that families have sons is widely practised within some ethnic communities in Britain and has resulted in significant shortfalls in the proportion of girls, according to an investigation by The Independent. The practice of sex-selective abortion is now so commonplace that… Read more »

Plebgate and the Illusion of Memory

Okay, so Plebgate is back in the news today because Keith Wallis, the Metropolitan Police Officer who false claimed to have witnessed the incident in an email sent to his local MP has admitted a charge of misconduct in public office and offered to resign from the force. So, we can safely conclude that there was a stitch-up after the fact in which at least one serving police officer lied to get at Andrew Mitchell and damage his political career. But, if we strip away all the extraneous details and this post-hoc stitch-up and focus just on the incident itself, what have we still actually got on the table? Well, what we have is a brief verbal exchange, lasting only… Read more »

Domestic Abuse Statistics and Margins of Error

Today’s Observer is running a story on research by Citizens Advice which, more than anything else, serves to demonstrate just how easily statistical information can be abused to present an alarming but potentially inaccurate picture of reality…

Domestic abuse: half a million victims ‘too terrified to come forward’ Study uncovers hidden casualties of violence, many of them too scared to report the crime More than half a million victims of domestic abuse are too terrified to come forward and report their experiences, according to provisional estimates of research that specialists hope will quantify the true extent of the crime. Citizens Advice has conducted research over the last year that reveals a higher level of abuse than previously reported. A pilot… Read more »

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 »

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 »

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 »