Friday, 2 January 2009

Lies, damned lies and...

The white working class was THE ethnic group of 2008 in media circles, with the BBC even presenting a White Season in a rather lazy attempt to shock.

Little surprise then, that when some government research came out today bemoaning the supposed alienation of poor whites, it was picked up across the media spectrum, typically featuring the poisonous, pixie-ish Hazel Blears, who along with Phil Woolas, has started making ominous and disturbing noises about the "indigenous population".

Turns out this 'research' was the product of interviews with a total 43 people living on housing estates in carefully chosen parts of the country, making any results utterly worthless. It's hardly surprising that the government got the soundbite research they needed after spending enough time finding people to tell them what they wanted to hear.

Presenting the thoughts of a hand-picked selection of residents of Runcorn, Thetford and Widnes as research borders on fraud. It is precisely this sort of manipulation of information that feeds cynical and dismissive attitudes - as happens when each party seems to have its own set of crime statistics. All too often, the press response is unquestioning - a perfect example of what Nick Davies terms "churnalism".

Interestingly, the aptly-named Sir Michael Scholar, head of the UK Statistics Authority, today called for ministers' early sneak briefings on official statistics to end. Unsurprisingly, it turns out some naughty politicians have a habit of leaking favourable data. While the 'research' out today wasn't the UKSA's fault (they deal with the dreary but worthy stuff like the census), it makes sense to make the organisation more of a public service. Plus, it will make the whole topic much more fun, as the various parties enter a speed-reading race to get their statements out first.

Finally, here is some doggerel that really shouldn't be anywhere near the pages of a quality newspaper. Katyusha rockets are scarier with their mysterious Russian name - one way to fight them, at least psychologically, would be to translate it into English. Maybe militants would get embarassed about setting off a barrage of 'Little Katies'?

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