Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Mail has egg on its face over statistics (again)

The Daily Mail, always first with the news that matters, today proudly reports that a man in Cornwall has found an egg that isn't egg-shaped. Or, as the headline puts it:

"What a shellshocker! Chef's perfectly round egg is a BILLION-to-one discovery"

There's a little-known byelaw affecting the Kensington area that requires all sub-editors to use an egg-based pun in the headline when working on stories about eggs, so we'll let that abomination pass. Instead, let's focus on the eye-catching claim that the round egg is "one in a billion".

The second paragraph of the story repeats the egg-straordinary (sorry) statistic:

"James Church was working the early shift in Newquay, Cornwall, when he made his billion-to-one discovery."
Where does this come from? Has there ever been a detailed study of egg-shapes? Have they found an esteemed egg-spert (sorry, again) in chicken-related matters who knows all about the probabilities involved in egg-shape distribution? Has the Mail even managed to come up with a single fact to egg-splain (last one, promise) why this is a one-in-billion occurrence?

What do you think?

What we do get is a quote from the chef:

"I've probably cracked at least 100,000 eggs in my time as a chef but I've never seen one like this."
Right. So of the 100,000 eggs he's cracked, one has been perfectly round. I'm no expert, but I'm pretty sure that counts as anecdotal evidence that the chance of finding a round egg is one in 100,000. Not one in a billion. And even that is a totally unscientific, untested and unreliable "fact".

It seems the Mail has finally decided to give up twisting the facts in favour of just making them up.

And even if this claim were true, is it really so remarkable as to be considered news by a national newspaper? According to the British Egg Information Service (no, really), the UK gets through almost 11 billion eggs each year. If perfectly round eggs are one in a billion, we should be seeing 11 of them each year in this country alone. That's roughly one every five weeks. Based on the chef's experience that one in every 100,000 is round, Brits should be stumbling across 110,000 such eggs each year - more than 300 per day.

With a war raging in Afghanistan, toxic sludge seeping across central Europe, and one of the most dramatic rescues of all time taking place in South America, does the Daily Mail REALLY have nothing better to write about?

2 comments:

Rob said...

Un oeuf egg puns already!

notsofriendlyhumanist said...

I think you're missing a point here. It seems to me that this is just a PR piece for the hotel. Hotel needs publicity, Mail needs space filled, hence the crappy story. Churnalism at its best.