Archive for the ‘Daily Mail’ category

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

Daily Mail Bricks itself in

To those lucky enough not to have been following this story since its bitter beginnings, Samantha Brick is a woman. She wrote an article for the Daily Mail on Tuesday, complaining that other women hate her because she’s too beautiful. The utter irrelevance of the piece, the galling arrogance of the idea, and Ms Brick’s failure to meet the standards of ‘beauty’ for many readers was a red rag to a platoon of bulls. The page was inundated with comments, and thus was born a temporary mini-phenomenon for both traditional and social media.

Now, the ante just keeps getting upped:

The self-parody alert apparently hasn’t gone off at Daily Mail HQ. Or maybe it has, and someone pulled the wires out and stamped on it a few times because the sound it made was just too beautiful for human ears. Even seasoned press disparagers are watching the continued apparently-uncontrolled-but-possibly-self-aware tailspin of the Samantha Brick non-story with a kind of pinch-nosed amusement so, apart from the fact that we’ve not linked to the story directly, they’ve won. The Daily Mail have found the winning formula.

They’ve created a totally bizarre perpetual motion machine of a story that runs entirely on its own perceived notoriety, regardless of the number of meta- prefixes required to explain the situation. I might be wrong, but I think we’ve become meta-meta-meta-interested, in that the most interesting aspect is that meta-meta-interested parties (who recognise the cheap ad-revenue-maximising strategy being employed) still go back for more. If that interests you, it’s time to get a job in a philosophy department. Or at the Guardian.

The Daily Mail is collapsing into an event horizon of navel-gazing recursive reporting which threatens to engulf Twitter, Fleet Street and, shortly, the entire western spiral arm of the galaxy.

And, when half of the Milky Way is torn asunder as an indirect result of them, I think we’d all be justified in hating Samantha Brick for her looks.

Written by Statto and Tom

April 6, 2012 at 14:22

Posted in Daily Mail, metamedia

No re-Morse

Oxford astrophysicist Professor Steve Rawlings was found dead on Wednesday. He was by all accounts an excellent academic, and I can vouch for the quality of his undergraduate lectures. Most importantly, my thoughts go out to his family, friends and the Oxford Physics community.

The tabloids’ thoughts, however, are nowhere to be seen (do they even have any?). I hate the prurient, half-baked insinuation flying around after a possibly-suspicious death, but sadly this one is close enough to home (I’m a physicist at Oxford University) that I have read some of it. I took the Telegraph’s hot-off-the-press reporting with an appropriate pinch of salt, revulsion and intrigue (the Beeb and Guardian being far too measured at this stage in proceedings to allow me to accrue any goss), but it’s The Sun which really took the biscuit, and pissed all over it like a US Marine. Murdoch’s red-top opens its sombre tribute to the great prof with

An Oxford University don has been found dead at a rival lecturer’s home after a suspected academic row.

A ‘rival’ lecturer? What does that even mean? Last time I checked, Oxford’s admittedly-unusual teaching system was not adversarial, and academics are notoriously benign. But, for those of us thickies for whom decoding nonsensical innuendo is too complicated, The Sun still delivers. Later in the article, it explains:

Prof Rawlings was based at St Peter’s College…in Oxford—setting of the Inspector Morse TV murders.

Oh, thanks The Sun, that’s really put this tragedy in a context I can relate to: it’s like a trite televised murder mystery! Now I understand. I guess a world of easy caricatures, cheap cultural shorthand and ‘rival academics’ who might kill one-another over differing interpretations of Bayes’ theorem is easier to write about than waiting for a police investigation to pan out in order to report actual facts.

Fuck you, The Sun.

And fuck you, The Daily Mail: they couldn’t even confine their self-satisfaction at having spotted the Morse connection to the article, and blurted it out in the headline:

Oxford don quizzed over the death of professor who was his best friend (with all the hallmarks of a Morse mystery)

Oh, so he’s his best friend now? I guess that does make some sense, given that they tell us

Professor Rawlings and Dr Sivia co-wrote a book titled Foundations of Science Mathematics…available for £13.99.

Sorry, what? Not content with merely ‘sickening’ and keen to rack up ‘bizarre’ to boot, The Mail’s remorseless search for not-even-circumstantial or just plain irrelevant non-evidence extended to seeking out some Amazon reviews for their co-written tome on maths. ‘It covers everything I need and will be useful to look back at maths I have done in the past, for future reference,’ explained a witness. I mean, student. Who read a book they wrote in 1999 and posted a review on the Internet. If that isn’t admissible evidence in our so-called justice system, I think we should probably abandon it right now and initiate universal Trial by Media in the Court of Public Opinion.

Every time a newspaper comes near something I know anything about, bullshit, inaccuracy and innuendo are thrown about as though salacious copy sells copies or something. The self-parodying, stereotype-laden stories in The Sun and The Mail lend the world a warm, simplistic familiarity, rather more like an episode of Inspector Morse than the diverse, messy world they claim to relate. Real life is far more interesting, and the real people in it far more complex than the column-filling caricatures in the tabloids. And one of those real people is now dead, and many whose lives he touched are now grieving. Have some fucking sympathy.

Rest in peace, Professor Rawlings.

Written by Statto

January 13, 2012 at 10:10

Posted in Daily Mail, The Sun, UK news