Archive for October 2014

Better understanding of numbers needed, stat

Results from a new survey doing the rounds today lament the global public’s political innumeracy. But, far from being wrong at random, citizens from fourteen different countries think the world is a worse place than it actually is. No area of standard media controversy escapes our collective statistical pessimism: from immigration, to teenage pregnancy, to the ageing population, those surveyed are sure there is more, it is worse, and everyone is dying.

Some of these numbers are delightfully crazy if you think about them. For example, the average estimate from the UK general public is that, in a given year, 16% of 15–19 year-olds give birth. So one in six people in a 5-year age bracket give birth annually…so, on average, almost every girl has a baby before she hits 20. Nationally. And around half of people must have guessed more than that. Would you? Really, would you?!

Additionally, Brits think 24% of our population are immigrants, when actually it’s 13%. Check out how ignorant we are! And it seems that ignorance in these cases is not bliss: it’s a combination of fear and misunderstanding of percentages.

Perceptions of immigration: What a mess!

Perceptions of immigration: What a mess! Today’s Daily Mail front page.

So far, so depressing. But wait, there’s more: this litany of public misunderstanding was reported in numerous publications, including…the Daily Mail.

Whilst the Mail stops short of blaming our unskilled estimation on pregnant teenage asylum seekers (who are shown in the sidebar in their beachwear), this editorial decision may nonetheless have registered on your irony meter.

Since the survey somehow didn’t make it into the print edition, let’s instead look at some headlines which did (Daily Mail, 29th October 2014):

  • IMMIGRATION: WHAT A MESS! (Front page, top story. Immigration.)
  • Is UK really doing worse on child poverty than Romania and Bulgaria? (If this were determined by polls, then probably yes.)
  • Britain an El Dorado for migrants (Immigration.)
  • We can’t control borders while we’re in the EU, says minister (Immigration.)
  • No more rescue missions to save migrants in Med boats (Immigration.)
  • Is Qatar the most two-faced nation on Earth? (Foreigners.)
  • A swamped [immigration] system that just can’t cope (Immigration.)
  • The Taliban and Hamas live in luxury in Qatar’s capital city (Foreigners, cont’d.)
  • And the bride wore a hidden camera (Includes pull quote: ‘A passport is like gold dust’. So also immigration.)
  • Former Girl Guide who turned extremist flees to Syria with baby son (This ‘young mum’ was actually 23 or 24 at the time. In fairness to the Mail, however, this story is about emigration.)

Oh God. What kind of country do we live in? Mummy, I know you’re only 14, but please protect me from it all!

Sorry, where were we? Oh yes, that survey of topical pessimism. Clearly people aren’t answering from personal experience, because the average of everyone’s personal experience should give approximately the correct percentage. (This is due to maths.) So could people be guessing based on fear and prejudice? And where might that have arisen?

We don’t know but, as the Mail’s headline writers clearly do know, implication is a powerful tool. We’ll let you draw your own conclusions.

Just as a friendly warning, those conclusions are probably numerically inaccurate.

Written by Statto and Tom

October 29, 2014 at 17:11

Posted in Daily Mail, statistics

Marble comic attacks the political glass

A man has been ejected from the House of Commons after allegedly throwing a bag of what were allegedly marbles and ranting during Prime Minister’s Questions. The only thing more incoherent than his protest has been the reporting of the incident.

Important facts about the altercation reported by The Telegraph include that the man was dressed casually, that the man was wearing a massive coat, that it was ‘over the NHS thing’, and that the man had eyes that are different colours. (Perhaps he had marbles instead of eyes?) All valuable facts, but somehow it doesn’t manage to explicitly mention that the marbles didn’t (and couldn’t) reach the MPs below despite reportedly being ‘hurled’ at them.

623px-Marble.arch.london.arp

I said ‘the marbles arced’ -Ed

On a page which features the word ‘marbles’ no fewer than seventeen times, eyewitnesses were queueing up to provide their marbled testimony, and editors at The Telegraph were very keen to let them speak in full, with no editing, in spite of possible repetition of the point they were making, or saying the same thing over and over, about marbles. Marbles.

This witness was so shocked as to provide a quote which answers his own question before asking it:

I don’t know how he got in because he had a big green coat on so he has obviously hidden it in there. How has he got in with a bag of marbles?

Other witnesses also wanted to say ‘shock’, as well as saying ‘marbles’:

It was dead silent, everyone was in shock – a bit shocked that this man had got up and thrown some marbles. It was immediately obvious it was marbles, a big bag of them and they went everywhere.

Four points to this quotee for a quote with a full quota of marble shock.

It was shocking at the time because you wonder how he got it in with a bag of marbles.

Presumably with hindsight the marble-smuggling is less remarkable?

It was a bag about the size of an A4 sheet, full of marbles. There were people around picking them up and the official picking them up. It was quite a shock.

Post-traumatic stress from marble collection. This person is not destined for any sort of work involving filing or cleaning, or active military service.

Most unbelievably, witnesses report that a £1.4m security screen, designed to protect MPs from like terrorism and stuff, was damaged in the incident. Presumably it had been designed for the last war, namely a condom full of purple flour lobbed at ex-PM Tony Blair in 2004. It just wasn’t ready for an A4 bag of children’s playthings, just like reporters at The Telegraph.

Marbles.

Written by Tom and Statto

October 23, 2014 at 09:41

Posted in London, politics, UK news

Dave on IS: Iraq my brain about this Syria’s problem

The war on terror is more than made-up threat levels and political posturing in one place in particular: Iraq. The UK committed forces to a war on the Islamic State (IS) after an astounding 524–43 Commons vote. (It’s hard to get a consensus about what to call IS/ISIL/ISIS, but apparently it’s easier to get MPs to agree that ISREALLYBAD. Boom boom.)

IS is clearly devastating the lives of local populations, as well as brutally executing westerners. But equally, war has unforeseeable consequences, sometimes creating legacies of dependency, destabilisation and/or hate. It’s complicated. Which is why it’s a relief to hear Home Secretary Theresa May saying:

Dealing with those threats requires a deep understanding of what is going on in the world and a studied, careful response.

this-is-not-an-isis-pick-up

A pick-up truck, similar to the bombed one, in that it has four wheels

That’s presumably why our opening salvo last week was to send two Tornado GR4 ground assault aircraft armed with Brimstone missiles to destroy a pick-up truck.

It is also presumably why, in the debate in Parliament that secured the staggering 481-strong majority, David Cameron laid out the studied, careful case for our response:

Isil is a terrorist organisation unlike those we have dealt with before. The brutality is staggering—beheadings, crucifixions, gouging out of eyes, use of rape as a weapon. This is about psychopathic terrorists who are trying to kill us. Like it or not they have already declared war on us.

Psychopathic terrorists!!! They’re trying to kill us! Do you like your eyes all non-gouged, in a head that is still attached to your body? Then it’s time to vote for an expensive foreign intervention with unclear objectives and indefinite length!

It’s disappointing: this man is the Prime Minister of an advanced economy which he’s just led into war with incredible haste, and yet his rhetoric is more over-blown than a light goods vehicle annihilated by a £175,000 missile.

Written by Statto and Tom

October 10, 2014 at 10:01

Terror review reviewed after terror levels levelled up

uk_threat_picturev0.1

The threat from terrorism is so serious that MI5 didn’t even have time to make a proper graphic to illustrate how serious it is (© Crown Copyright 2014, MI5)

The BBC today reported:

Home Secretary Theresa May has abandoned plans to review the structure of counter-terrorism policing, because of the increased security threat level.

Weirdly, this sentence seems to imply that the security threat level is a measurable, objective variable—like unemployment in Q4 2013, or the weather in Stoke last Tuesday—as opposed to a made-up quantity controlled by Home Secretary Theresa May herself.

Another way to word this story is: at exactly the time when counter-terrorism has been arbitrarily deemed by the Home Secretary to be at its most important, we are going to emphatically not even check whether it could be done better.

So, when will we perform this review instead?

The plans have been shelved until after the general election.

Thank God that, whilst the terrorists might not respect our freedoms or our way of life, they do at least have the common decency to respect election cycles.

This delay couldn’t possibly be explained by governmental fear that, if the structure of counter-terrorism were changed and a terrorism then happened, that they would be blamed. Or by the cynical observation that, if they don’t change anything, no-one will be blamed, even if a terrorism happens, because it won’t be (quite possibly incorrectly) attributable to something having been changed.

Could simplistic media narratives scare the government more than terrorism?

Written by Tom and Statto

October 9, 2014 at 23:43

Posted in terrorism, Tories

Theresa may be an extremist

Theresa May

It is unfortunate that some members of a group will always extrapolate stereotyped, or even erroneous, beliefs of that group to undesirable and destructive ends. Some rise through the ranks and are able to use their charisma to win impressionable people over to their odious ideologies. Indeed, as the government said in its document Tackling extremism in the UK,

Extremists take advantage of institutions to share their poisonous narrative with others, particularly with individuals vulnerable to their messages.

And yet Theresa May, the Home Secretary, was still allowed to take the lectern at the Conservative Party conference to say

Where [British people who have gone to Iraq or Syria] have dual nationality, I have the power to deprive them of their British citizenship and keep them out of our country. Thanks to our recent Immigration Act, in certain circumstances I can do the same to naturalised British citizens and keep them out of the country too.

Mrs May has taken the generally laudable principle that we shouldn’t let people blow us up, and ended up granting herself permission to make British citizens stateless, in spite of the fact that it says that nowhere in the Bible, Qu’ran or Dave’s Bumper Book of British Values.

(Tories do seem to love denationalising things without evidence, but normally it’s trains, schools and prisons, rather than citizens.)

It is now actually a law that the Home Secretary can take away the nationality of naturalised Brits without needing to disclose any evidence of their extremism, which has essentially created two tiers of UK citizenship. We’re pretty sure that’s not a British value.

(The only caveat is that the Home Secretary has to have a ‘reasonable expectation’ that another country will take on the prospectively stateless person. So presumably, as long as the King of Swaziland continues his quest for new wives, any female ‘extremist’ will be denationalisable, as will any male ‘extremist’ for whom MI6 can find a plausible wig and dress.)

Tackling this kind of Conservatist extremism is one of the defining battles of our age, and we hope that moderate Conservatives will speak out against it.

A video of Mrs May’s speech was posted to online video site YouTube. ‘At this point we have no reason to doubt the authenticity of this video, or the seriousness of the threat,’ a security analyst from GCHQ told Headline Superheroes.

Written by Statto and Tom

October 6, 2014 at 16:13

Posted in terrorism, Tories