Thursday 28 October 2010

"A new low"

The Daily Mail is clearly not a fan of GMTV's replacement:
Is this why nobody's watching Daybreak? New low as Christine Bleakley and Adrian Chiles interview Aleksandr the meerkat
What kind of "lightweight" media organisation would treat everyone's favourite animated anthropomorphic insurance salesman as if he were a real person? Perhaps one that, less than a year ago, ran this story:
Compare the Meerkat star releases first podcast featuring interview with David Hasselhoff
He's already attracted more than half a million fans on Facebook and can boast nearly 30,000 followers on Twitter. And now Aleksandr Orlov, the meerkat made famous from the Compare the Market adverts, is set to feature in a new podcast where he will interview celebrity guests.The first interview will be with David Hasselhoff which will be released tomorrow and can be downloaded from the Compare the Meerkat website and itunes. Hasselhoff joked: 'I’ve heard so much about Aleksandr - it was a real pleasure to finally meet him and an honour to be the first guest on his monthly chat show."

Could it be the same outlet that, last Christmas, proudly boasted of this EXLCUSIVE story from Georgina "Spawn of the Devil" Littlejohn?

Exclusive: Meerkat Aleksandr Orlov hyped up to epic scale as Lawrence of Arabia for new ad campaign
He has become one of Britain's biggest stars, an overnight sensation that the viewing public has taken to their hearts. But exactly how aristocratic Russian meerkat Aleksandr Orlov came to be an advertising entrepreneur will soon become clear when he stars in his first film. The anthropomorphic animal and his trusted IT sidekick Sergei star in The Journey of Courageousness, a 60-second film chartering the meerkats' journey from the rolling dunes of the Kalahari Desert to the cold wastelands of Russia ... Aleksandr said: 'I am very exited about new films The Journey of Courageousness. Anyones not watching is a moongoose'.

Yes, yes it could be. And of course it would be the Daily Mail, which appears to have reached a new low.

Playing the name game: more on the Mail and Mohammed

As No Sleep Til Brooklands has pointed out, if you apply the Daily Mail's "add all the names that sound a bit similar together" rule to Oliver as well as Mohammed, Oliver comes out on top by a country mile.

With nothing better to do in my lunchbreak I decided to see how the Top 10 list of names looks if you apply the same rule to all of them. It comes out like this:
1) Oliver (plus Oliwier, Oli, Oliwer, Olivers, Olliver, Ollie, Olli) = 8,148

2) Mohammed (plus Muhammad, Mohammad, Muhammed, Mohamed, Mohamad, Muhamed, Mohammod, Mahamed, Muhamad, Mahammed, Mohmmed) = 7,549

3) Jack (plus Jac, Jacques and Jacky, but not including the massed ranks of Jacobs) = 7,238

4) Charlie (plus Charley, Charlee, Charly, Charli and Charles) = 6,755

5) Thomas (plus Tommy, Tom, Thom, Tommi and Tomi) = 6,350

6) Harry (plus Harri, Hari and Harrie) = 6,332

7) Joshua (plus Josh) = 5,874

8) Alfie (plus Alfi, Alfy, Alf, Alfee, Alfey and Alffi, not including Alfred) = 5,565

9) William (plus Will, Willem, Wil and Wiliam) = 5,498

10) Daniel (plus Daniel, Danny, Daniyal, Danyal, Dan, Danyl, Danyaal, Danielius, Danial, Daniels, Daniele, Daniyaal, Dany and Daniaal) = 5,038

(Note that I've not counted compound names, where middle-class parents think they're being terribly unique by calling their child Alfie-Jack only to discover that eight other couples came up with the same idea)

Let's compare it with the Mail's top 10:
1) Mohammed (#2 in my list)

2) Oliver (#1 in my list)

3) Jack (#3 in my list)

4) Harry (#6 in my list)

5) Alfie (#8 in my list)

6) Joshua (#7 in my list)

7) Thomas (#5 in my list)

8) Charlie (#4 in my list)

9) William (#9 in my list)

10) James (not in my top 10, even with the help of 50-odd people called Jaymes)

What does this little exercise prove? We've already seen that Mohammed is clearly NOT the most popular name for boys. With the exception of James (which lost out to variations of Daniel) the names in the rest of the top 10 remain the same. However, the order in which they are ranked is completely different. Had the Mail applied the methodology it used to construct an anti-Muslim story for other, less scary names, the top 10 list they published today would have looked very different indeed.

The fact they didn't proves beyond all doubt that accuracy and "truth" are not what Jack Doyle was aiming for with this story. How can he possibly justify bunching all the Mohammeds together "because they're really the same" but not counting Daniel, Danial and Daniyall in the same way?

If you're reading, Jack (Jac? Jacques?) I'd really like to know how this doesn't breach the editors' code rules on accuracy...

Spelling mistake

Mohammed is now the most popular name for baby boys ahead of Jack and Harry
So screams the headline in today's Mail, inviting you to draw your own conclusions about how the dreaded Muslims are taking over. The comments at the foot of the article contain the usual predictable rants about immigration and "English" culture and so on.

The problem is, the Mail has had to fix the facts in order to make the story fit its readers' prejudices. As they admit halfway down the story, Mohammed is actually the 16th most popular name in Britain. But Home Affairs Correspondent Jack Doyle has taken the liberty of including various other spellings of the same name - Muhammad, Mohammad, Muhammed and so on - and added them all together in order to give the "true picture". The Office for National Statistics didn't feel the need to do this, but who are they to argue with the Mail's methodology?

Of course, Mohammed is the only name to get this treatment from the Mail. Alexs are not bundled in with Alexanders, Alixs and Alecksanders. Charlie and Charles are kept distinct. Thomas and Tom apparently have nothing in common at all.

The paper also fails to mention that naming your firstborn son after the prophet is a standard thing for Muslims, so there is always going to be a bias towards it - after all, if there was an English tradition, followed by almost everyone in the country, to call your first son "Methusula", it would comfortably top the chart year after year. Likewise, the lack of a similar tradition for female Muslim children gives parents much more flexibility on names, so there are no "Muslim" names anywhere near the top of the girls' list.

There's also a distinct lack of context - add together all of the spellings of Mohammed and you get 7,549 babies, which sounds a lot. But 362,135 male births were registered in England and Wales last year, so the massed ranks of Mohammeds make up just over two per cent of 2009's baby boys, or around one per cent of all births.

What's the story here? I think we should be far more worried that three couples chose to call their sons Zoltan.

Tuesday 26 October 2010

Mail attempts to kill off a few more readers

According to the Mail, pretty much everything gives you cancer. And pretty much everything also prevents cancer. And a miracle cure for cancer is just around the corner. So you'd think they'd be in favour of a scheme that can actually prevent people getting cancer. Right?
HMV voucher bribe for teenage girls to have cervical jabs: Fury at ‘promiscuity scheme’ as NHS faces cuts
I read this and splurted coffee all over my screen. I wiped it down and read the opening paragraphs:
"Teenage girls are being bribed with high street shopping vouchers to receive a highly controversial vaccine. A health trust is promising them £45 in tokens for stores such as HMV, Argos and Debenhams if they agree to the cervical cancer jab, which protects against a sexually-transmitted virus that can cause tumours. Opponents say the vaccine - dubbed the 'promiscuity jab' - encourages girls to have sex earlier than they would. "
Oh dear lord. The HPV vaccine saves lives. The medical world is in total agreement on this - there isn't even an Andrew Wakefield-style loon carving out a career saying it actually gives you cancer or makes you grow an extra arm or some such.

Now there may be ethical questions about "bribing" teenagers to have any kind of medical treatment, as the Mail acknowledges:
Professor Theresa Marteau, from the Centre for the Study of Incentives in Health, said there is evidence that paying for girls to have vaccines can work. But she added: "There is a concern that if you give that amount of money to young people, they will run along to get the money and not pay attention."
Fair enough. Let's have a debate about that shall we? After all, this story has been lifted wholesale from a Radio 4 documentary that looks at this very issue. Is it right to use "incentives" to achieve medical outcomes.

But the Mail prefers to try and whip up some FURY about girls being bribed to be promiscuous. And who do they turn to for this? Why, it's one-man moral campaign "group" Norman Wells:

"This is yet another example of public money being thrown at a problem that has its roots in declining standards of morality. There is already evidence that the vaccine is giving some girls a false sense of security and leading them to think that because they have been vaccinated they are protected against the worst effects of sexual promiscuity and can therefore engage in casual sex without consequences."

The only FURY here comes from a self-appointed moral guardian with no statistical or medical evidence to back up his case - note that he boldly states that there is "evidence" that teenage girls are sleeping with more men because they've had the HPV jab. For a man so concerned about such issues you'd think he'd be able to point to a study or some research to back this up, but no. Even his own website makes no such evidence available. Yet the Mail not only takes his claim as fact, it also bases the entire story around it!

Calling the HPV vaccination process a "promiscuity scheme" in the headline is grossly, sickeningly irresponsible. As Cancer Research UK points out:
"It is not correct to say that women who get cervical cancer have it because they were promiscuous (slept around). After all, you could have only slept with one man and still caught the virus if he had it. If he's had lots of partners, that will increase your risk, because it indirectly exposes you to possible sexual infections from lots of other people."
But that doesn't fit the Mail's story, so the facts, provided by the experts, are cast aside.

When the Mail became convinced that the MMR jab caused autism, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the number of children being vaccinated against measles fell and the number of measles cases soared. Children DIED and were left disabled as a result of such irresponsible reporting but has the Mail learned its lesson? Has it fuck.

How many Mail-reading parents will see this article and think "Gosh, I didn't realise the HPV vaccine would encourage my daughter to sleep around". How many girls will miss out on this treatment as a result? How many girls will miss the opportunity to be vaccinated - the jab has to be given before a girl becomes sexually active - and how many women will get cancer as a result?

They ought to be ashamed of themselves.

The Daily Star, the EDL, Winterval and more statistical failings

The English Defence League has discovered Winterval! According to today's Daily Star, everyone's favourite braindead Nazi thugs have pledged to "close down" any town that, as the Star puts it "ditches British traditions and shows favourtism to Muslims".
"The English Defence League said it has written to every council in the country threatening a mass invasion if they ban the word “Christmas”. It includes using the term “winter festival” in case Christmas upsets Muslims. "
Thankfully this means the good people of England will be able to go about their Christmas shopping without having to negotiate crowds of feeble-minded skinhead fuckwits (who are so hard they always have to hide their faces in photos), seeing as how no council anywhere in England has EVER banned the word Christmas and used the terms "winter festival" to avoid upsetting Muslims.

The EDL - whose knuckle-dragging members actually support their allegedly Christian credentials by disproving the theory of evolution - will no doubt claim that they "saved Christmas" when, in two months time, Christmas continues unabated.

What's more worrying is the treatment the Star gives the story. All bar the final paragraph - or roughly 90 per cent of the word count - is given over to the EDL's insane ramblings and the Star's apparently support for them. This includes the observation that the EDL's threat:

"... comes after yesterday’s Daily Star poll found 98% of readers fear that Britain is becoming a Muslim state. "
The poll in question is one of those classic Express / Star revenue-raising premium rate phone scams, and was attached to a story about a Church of England diocese in Yorkshire being merged with its neighbour as there are no longer enough people going to church there to make it economically viable. One of the reasons for this is a demographic shift that has seen an increase in the number of Muslim families in the area. This prompted the Star to ask "Is Britain becoming a Muslim state?", to which 98 per cent of readers responded in the affirmative.

According to the Office for National Statistics, just 2.8 per cent of the population call themselves Muslim, which suggests two things - that the Islamification of Britain has some way to go yet and that Daily Star readers are a bit thick.

Poppycock: in which a cock talks about poppies

Richard Littlejohn spends the bulk of today's column calling on his readers to break the law, suggesting they emulate a convicted killer by opening fire on anyone they find inside their house or, indeed, passing by outside. As I pointed out a while back, extrajudicial killings are to be welcomed in Mailworld, but only if done by white people.

In order to pad out the rest of his page, violent criminal (and economic migrant) Littlejohn joins the Mail chorus in attacking the BBC over Poppygate:
"Some Left-leaning broadcasters and mainstream politicians are sporting poppies already, even though there are more than two weeks to go to remembrance Day ... Someone should quietly explain that wearing a poppy in the middle of october is as inappropriate as having easter eggs at Christmas."
Obviously Littlejohn knows much more about this issue than those chancers at the Royal British Legion, who just yesterday told an obscure little paper called the Daily Mail:
"It's really down to the individual as to when they choose to wear their poppy. We would never say they're wearing their poppy too early."
But, hey, what do they know about anything?

Also, Dickie, I think you'll find that "Remembrance Day" takes a capital R. Why do you disrespect our fallen heroes so?

Mail goes strangely quiet on "elf N safety" and "com-pen-say-shun"

The damning narrative verdict on the death of Charlotte Shaw probably came too late to be included in today's Littlejohn ramblings - maybe he'll mention it on Thursday, although I suspect he'll give this one a miss. Likewise, the Mail seems to have overlooked the demands of the namby-pampy nanny state for improved health and safety rules.

Charlotte Shaw was the 14-year-old Devon girl who drowned on Dartmoor three years ago. As the inquest heard this week, the teachers who were supposed to be supervising Charlotte and her friends were not properly qualified. The coroner also complained that Health & Safety Executive guidelines for state schools running outdoor trips are not automatically made available to their private counterparts.

This is why health and safety is important - because it saves lives. Every time a cretin like Littlejohn or an anonymous "Daily Mail Reporter" calls for the HSE to be scrapped or makes up a story about "Elf N Safety gone maaaad" it chips away at the credibility of both the organisation and the whole concept of health and safety.

Just 10 days ago the Daily Mail was celebrating the fact that school trips were to be freed of the "stranglehold" of red tape. A quick search of the Mail online archive reveals a steady stream of articles calling for "more danger" in schools or demanding that we stop "mollycoddling" our children in the name of health and safety.

There is obviously a balance to be struck between risk and the benefit kids get from getting out and about, but the Mail and its ilk consistently portray the very idea of "health and safety" as some terrible invention of killjoys that should be done away with. The tragic death of Charlotte Shaw shows exactly what can happen if this approach is taken to its natural conclusion, which may explain why the Mail hasn't published an outraged editorial attacking the coroner for destroying good old-fashioned fun and attempting to wrap our children up in cotton wool.

I also see that Charlotte's mother is suing her daughter's school for negligence. What are the odds that in Thursday's column Littlejohn will complain about her being a money-grabbing ambulance-chaser in search of com-pen-say-shun?

Monday 25 October 2010

"Strict rules"

It doesn't take much to get the Mail outraged, especially when the BBC are involved. You can just imagine the furious anger that would be directed at the corporation if any presenter appeared on screen in early November without wearing a poppy - "BBC betrays our heroes" sort of thing - but today the paper decided to scream blue murder because Aunty has allowed people on screen wearing poppies "too early".

BBC's blooming error: Charity collectors criticise presenters for wearing poppies too early

Gosh. How awful of them. Tell us more, Anonymous Daily Mail Reporter.
"Various BBC personalities sported poppies this weekend despite the fact that volunteers across the country will not be ready to start collections until next weekend. There are strict rules governing the period during which the Royal British Legion is allowed to sell the poppies and the organisation even wrote to inform the BBC of the dates its campaign would begin."
Strict rules, you say? What does the Royal British Legion have to say about this terrible breach of protocol?
"According to the Royal British Legion, the BBC has done nothing wrong. 'What we do say to people is that when you receive your poppies – organisations, retailers, whoever – we set guidelines and say the national launch will be from 28 October,' said a spokesman. 'But it's really down to the individual as to when they choose to wear their poppy. We would never say they're wearing their poppy too early.'"
Ah. So actually what happens is that the RBL send their poppies out to sellers and, at the time, tell them that the national campaign will start on X date and that you shouldn't sell them before then, although that's just a guideline, not a rule. So who is furious about the breach of these strict rules?
"Sue Cornwell, who co-ordinates poppy sales for the Amersham branch of the charity."

Oh. I see. What's got Sue's goat?

"There is a strict date when you can buy a poppy and make your donation, and it has to be from 30 October."

The Royal British Legion, which actually runs the campaign, says there is nothing wrong with sprouting poppies in October. The only person the Mail can find to stand up their story is one collector from one regional branch, and even she doesn't say that people shouldn't wear them before 30 October, just that collectors can't sell them before this date. And she seems to have got her dates wrong, as the RBL actually says this year's campaign starts two days earlier on 28 October.

The fact that the national campaign directly contradicts both Ms Cornwell and the Mail's entire story may explain the slightly clumsy headline about "charity collectors". The original headline - which can still be seen on the homepage, the title bar and the URL - reads:

BBC presenters criticised by charities for wearing poppies too early

Not just one charity, note, but charities, plural. Even though the only charity involved says the BBC has done nothing wrong and there is no sign of any other charities getting involved in the "row". What we've got is ONE person complaining. One. Out of a population of 60 million.

There could be an interesing story here about the pressure on politicians and other public figures to be poppied-up at the earliest opportunity in order to show that they "care". But once again the Mail lets its own agenda get in the way of the facts, even when quotes in the story contradict the rest of it. Can the people who work there really justify calling themselves "journalists"?

The Mail has now updated the version of the story on its website. The anti-BBC quote from Ms Cornwell has been extended, but the supportive line from the British Legion is drastically scaled back and the phrase "According to the Royal British Legion, the BBC has done nothing wrong" has vanished altogether. It's an even more shamless attempt to attack the BBC without letting the facts get in the way. Pathetic.

Thursday 21 October 2010

Warning: this story stinks

The headline in today's Mail is pretty clear:

Cafe owner ordered to remove extractor fan 'because smell of frying bacon offends Muslims'
And the comments from enlightened Mail readers are fairly direct too. Lots of demands that Muslims "leave the country" if they don't like the way "we" do things here. Except, as seasoned Mail-debunkers doubtless predicted the moment they read the headline, not a single Muslim has said they are offended by the smell of frying bacon.

Let's start at the beginning:

"A hard-working cafe owner has been ordered to tear down an extractor fan - because the smell of her frying bacon 'offends' Muslims. Planning bosses acted against Beverley Akciecek, 49, after being told her next-door neighbour's Muslim friends had felt 'physically sick' due to the 'foul odour'. Councillors at Stockport Council in Greater Manchester say the smell from the fan is 'unacceptable on the grounds of residential
We only have to get to the second sentence before the first hint appears that something is amiss. It wasn't a Muslim who complained but a non-Muslim next-door neighbour. And he didn't say that his Muslim friends found the smell offensive, but that the smell made them feel sick. Just to be clear on that point, let's read on:

"They claim they received no complaints about the cafe which is open from 7.30am-2.30pm six days a week, until around 18 months ago when they received a letter from environmental services to say their neighbour Graham Webb-Lee had complained about the smell."
So someone living next door to a cafe complained to the council about the smell. Blimey. Hold the front page. Whatever next?

"They say that the council's environmental services had been out to inspect their property after their neighbour complained about a foul odour last year, but they ruled that the smell was not causing a problem. Mrs Akciecek said: 'Environmental services said everything is ok. They kept coming back and guaging it and said there was no problem and because they didn't take any action (the neighbours) complained again.'"
Now we're getting onto the serious stuff. The council responded to a complaint from a taxpayer?Someone call Eric Pickles, we won't stand for this nonsense! Let's get back to that headline. Who has ordered them to take down the offensive extractor fan?

"The couple had never applied for planning permission as they had simply replaced an existing extractor fan with one of the same size and in the same position, but, following further complaints from their neighbour, they were informed by the council they would have to apply retrospectively as an objection had been raised. They applied for planning permission in May this year, but the application was refused at a meeting of Stockport Area Committee on October 14."
Ah-ha. So they made changes to their premises without obtaining planning permission and when they did so retrospectively their request was declined BECAUSE THE SMELL OF BACON OFFENDS MUSLIMS? Er, no, not quite:

"Mr Webb-Lee said: 'The vent is 12 inches from my front door. Every morning the smell of bacon comes through and makes me physically sick. I have a lot of Muslim friends. They refuse to visit me anymore because they can't stand the smell of bacon.'"
Riiiiight. Mr Webb-Lee (who, let's remember, is not a Muslim) says the smell makes HIM physically sick. Which rather contradicts the second paragraph of the story, where the Mail claims he said the smell makes his Muslim friends physically sick. And his Muslim friends say they won't visit him because they can't stand the smell of bacon. Not that they're offended by it. It's possible they hate the smell because they're offended by the idea of bacon being cooked, we just don't know. But that hasn't stopped the Mail making up "facts" to fit a headline.

What do the council have to say about all this?

"The retrospective application was rejected on the grounds of residential amenity, as the committee felt the odours given off from the vent were unacceptable for neighbouring residents. We will ensure that the cafe complies with this decision and removes the extractor fan."
Nothing at all about offending Muslims there, either. The cafe owners installed a new fan, the fan made the smells worse for their neighbours, the neighbours complained to the council and the council took action. So that headline should really have read:

Cafe owner who flaunted planning laws ordered to remove fan because she's stinking out the neighbourhood
But that doesn't really fit the Mail's agenda, does it? And for those of you who think such things don't matter, have a look at the comments under the story. Page after page of vile anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant ranting, all of it based on the lies of a "Daily Mail Reporter".

Between me spotting this story and writing this post, the Mail have updated the headline to the slightly-less-batshit-but-still-inaccurate "Cafe owner ordered to remove extractor fan because neighbour claimed 'smell of frying bacon offends Muslims'". Worth noting that the URL sticks with "Cafe-owner-ordered-remove-extractor-fan-case-smell-frying-bacon-offends-passing-Muslims." Who knows where "in case the smell offends passing Muslims" comes from, as even the Mail's twisted little story doesn't make that claim.

What a difference a day makes

As has been pointed out on countless occassions by countless members of what I should probably call the "tabloid-watching community", the Daily Mail website (motto: "News is far more important to us that showbiz. News is what drives our site") likes nothing more than publishing pictures of young ladies in various states of undress.

So when the Mail was offered "raunchy" pictures of Glee's female cast members in return for a huge plug for gentleman's fap-mag GQ, there was never any doubt that such important "news" would be given extensive coverage. So extensive, in fact, that the paper eeked
TWO stories out of it in one day.

First there was this:

Then there was this:

The byline on one article is the classic "Daily Mail Reporter", but it could just as well be "Dirty Old Man" judging by the content:

"Michele, 24, delights her admirers in micro-mini white knickers, thigh-high blue and white striped socks, and a blue and white top that reveals a taut and toned bare midriff ... She pulls the ensemble together by sucking on a lollipop and leaning suggestively against a school locker. Co-star Dianna Agron also features in the shoot, at one point wearing a sexy cheerleader outfit with a barely there skirt and red high heels."
But by this morning, the moral tide was turning. Instead of the fun and frolics of the day before, the thought of seeing Quinn and Rachel in their smalls was enough to provoke that old favourite of the Daily Mail - FURY!

As the outraged members of the USA's Parents Television Council say:

"It is disturbing that GQ, which is explicitly written for adult men, is sexualizing the actresses who play high school-aged characters on Glee in this way. It borders on pedophilia. Sadly, this is just the latest example of the overt sexualization of young girls in entertainment."
Many other examples of the overt sexualisation of young girls in entertainment can, of course, be found all over the Mail website. Including on the story in question - so that the Mail's moral readers can see just how outrageous the pictures are, the article helpfully includes four of them. On top of the seven used in the other two stories. Plus two more of Lea Michele in character, dressed in a school uniform. Which prompted one of the Mail's window-licking readers to comment:

Monday 18 October 2010

Mail condemns hospital for taking Mail's advice

Back in August I took a look at a Mail article that attacked the NHS for spending lots of money on sterile surgical screws instead of picking up them up at B&Q for 20p a pop. At the end I pondered what the Mail's reaction would be if it discovered that a hospital was carrying out operations using equipment purchased on the cheap at an out-of-town retail park.

Today we find out:

Burns victim's amazement after NHS hospital staff wrap his blistered hand in a TESCO freezer bag
A burns victim was left stunned after NHS staff wrapped his blistered hand in a Tesco freezer bag. Nicholas Robertson, 38, was treated for the injury - then medical staff needed to wrap his hand in a protective and sterilised plastic bag. But he was amazed to see the word Tesco stamped across the bag.

It appears that someone at the Cardiff and Vale University Health Board thought the Mail's procurement advice was actually pretty sensible, which of course prompts outrage from the, er, Daily Mail. And, perhaps more justifiably, from the burn victim himself*:

"Is this what the NHS has come to? I know there are Government cuts - but wrapping patients in Tesco freezer bags is not acceptable."
Protecting a properly treated burn with a plastic bag bought at Tesco and sterilised at the hospital = unacceptable. Using B&Q screws to bolt someone's hip back together = common sense.

The Mail must be a very confusing place to work sometimes...

*My sympathy for the victim was diminished slightly when I discovered that he had burned himself after "accidentally spilling lighter fluid on his hand close to a naked flame". Oh dear.

"Cynically cashing in"

The Express is outraged at talk of a Kiera Knightley/ Helen Mirren film about the early years of Princess Diana's life, said to bein the early stages of production.

"A FILM depicting the life and death of Princess Diana was accused last night of cynically 'cashing in' on her memory. Critics claimed the movie was 'extremely inappropriate' and could tarnish how people remember her."
And who is so outraged by the content of this film that has not yet been made? Her family? Her friends? Or a random member of the public with a slightly creepy Diana obsession?
Margaret Funnell, co-founder of the Diana Circle UK, a group dedicated to the Princess’s memory, said: “I don’t think anyone should make money out of the death of another person – and certainly not Diana. “We don’t need a glorified blockbuster about her life where all the facts are twisted and blown out of proportion. “It could tarnish her memory. I hope there is enough opposition to stop it.”
There's a certain irony in the Diana Circle campaigning against a film telling their idol's story, given that they think the "People's Princess" is being "airbrushed out of history" and have pledged to do all they can to keep her memory alive.

But before they take on a film that hasn't even made it out of pre-production, perhaps they, and the Daily Express, should turn their focus on a journal of ill-repute that seems determined to shift copies off the back of Diana's name with headlines such as:
"Princess Diana tells psychic her death was a well-planned accident"

"Diana was murdered says QC as he tells of unanswered questions"

"Princess Diana: The 500 hidden clues"

"Diana was killed over plan to expose UK arms dealers"

"Teacher at Princess Diana's old school in porn case"

"Diana's doctor love to marry colleague"

"Diana: New Sensation"

"Exclusive: Diana - why it was a murder plot"

And many, many, many more... Anyone want to guess which paper they come from?

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?