Posts Tagged Express

Hangovers, statistics and a dodgy hookup

It’s one of the oldest clichés in the book. You go to a party, get completely hammered, and wake up in bed with a dodgy PR firm.

Today’s ill-advised hookup is a threesome between The Express, The Mirror and a non-alcoholic drinks company called Sweet Lady Beverages, who claim that “the average Briton will spend five years of their life with a hangover“.

Before we look at the article itself, a quick sanity check. Life expectancy in the UK is roughly 80 years, and it’s unlikely people are going to experience hangovers before the age of about 15 or so. So, at maximum, that gives the average Brit about 65 drinking years. If the Express‘s statistics are true, we spend 8% of our adult lives hung over – we would spend more time hungover than we would eating. It’s amazing anyone gets anything done.

The article goes on to say that:

[Britons] will suffer the ill effects for a whole day – usually a Sunday – at least once a week between the ages of 21 and 38.

Bear in mind that this an average. According to Sweet Lady Beverages, the average person is hung over every week until the age of 40, and those hangovers last all day. That sounds a tiny bit excessive. After all, one – much more scientific – study found that having even just one hangover per month over an extended period is linked to a major increase (around 2.36 times) in heart attack risk.* And yet somehow, we’re not dropping like flies.

As far as I can tell – there’s no information about this survey available on the web outside these two articles – Sweet Lady Beverages simply asked visitors to its site to answer some questions about hangovers. There’s no published methodology; in other words, they don’t say what questions were asked or what precautions they made to make sure they had a fair sample.

For instance, they could have asked

It would certainly explain the odd results they got.

The Sweet Lady Beverage company is quoted by the Express as saying

The message we can take from this is simple – by reducing our alcohol intake we can reduce the amount of time feeling wretched.

Oddly on-message for a company selling alcohol-free drinks, wouldn’t you say?

* I can’t find many good scientific studies of hangovers. A lot of them are rather hamstrung by the fact that surveys usually take place in university, and therefore involve university students – not very representative of the drinking habits of the wider population! Nevertheless, this paper suggests that only 15% of the population have more than hangover per month.

Edit: The Daily Mail has now picked up the story too.

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Radiation scaremongering in the Daily Express

On March 30, The Daily Express ran with this front page this front page article:

TSUNAMI NUCLEAR FALLOUT HITS UK

The headline’s technically true, but the scale of the radioactive fallout compared to the media fallout is a bit out of sync. Slightly elevated levels of the radioactive isotope iodine-131 (I-131) have been seen in Glasgow and Oxfordshire, but the key word here is slightly.

The levels of I-131 detected in Oxfordshire rose by 0.0003 becquerel per cubic metre (Bq/m3), while in Glasgow it rose by just 0.00001 Bq/m3. A becquerel (Bq) is the unit of radioactivity; 1 Bq means you have one radioactive atom decaying and releasing radiation per second. These decays are what produce the distinctive clicks of a Geiger counter; each “click” represents a flash of radiation from the decay of one atom. As you may have seen in school, even when held away from radioactive sources a Geiger counter will probably give you a click or two per second – we’re surrounded natural radiation from the air, the ground, space and even from our own bodies. Around you right now, radon gas is releasing, on average, 20 Bq/m3 of radiation while inside your body, radioactive potassium-40 is decaying at over 4,000 Bq, and carbon-14 is producing radiation at a similar rate. Compared this background radiation, the change due to fallout is minimal: 0.0003 Bq is equivalent to one atom of radioactive iodine decaying per hour, and 0.00001 Bq is one extra decay per day. (For some perspective, after Chernobyl I-131 levels in the air at Harwell reached a maximum of 4 Bq/m3, ten thousand times the levels seen in Oxfordshire.)

Working out how much harm radiation causes isn’t always easy – a few bequerels from radon gas are more harmful than the thousands of bequerels released by potassium in your body, since radon releases harmful alpha radiation instead of the comparatively safe gamma radiation, and radon spends most of its time lurking in your delicate lungs – so to work out the risk you need to work out the equivalent dose, a measure of how much damage the radiation does to the body usually measured in sieverts. Being exposed to 0.0003 Bq/m3 extra I-131 is equivalent to an increased dose of 0.01 microsieverts (μSv) per year. You would absorb almost as much radiation just by sleeping next to someone for one night. For comparison, the smallest dose that we know to be harmful is around 100,000 microsieverts per year; millions of times more than anyone in the UK could receive from the fallout.

The Express quotes John Large, one of the critics of the nuclear industry, as saying:

The International Commission on Radiological Protection – which is made up of government agencies – is quite clear. It says any increase in accumulated radiation dose exposure is accompanied by a proportionate increase in risk. That is the natural law.

For Sepa [Scottish Environmental Protection Agency] to make profound statements about it is ‘not of concern’ to the public is not right. Of course the risk’s tiny but it’s up to the public to decide.

If you want the public to make an informed decision about nuclear power, it has to actually be informed. Screaming about “TSUNAMI NUCLEAR FALLOUT” without providing any context is not helpful, it’s just scaremongering, plain and simple.

Since the harmful dose for radiation is 5 million times higher than the levels found in Oxfordshire, I wonder what John Large would like Sepa to have said. Saying that these radiation levels are not of concern is not leading the public on, it’s simply a cold, hard medical fact. If Large does think these radiation levels are of concern, then may I suggest that his next statement focuses on the extreme dangers of radioactive bedmates.

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The Express and vote-rigging

PLOT TO "RIG" YOUR EU VOTE

Why is "rig" in quotes? Well...

Oh look, the front page of the Express has a ludicrous EU scare story! What are the odds?

BRUSSELS will attempt to “rig” any referendum asking the British people if they want to quit the EU, it emerged last night.

It would unleash a multi-million pound pro-Europe propaganda campaign – and get UK taxpayers to pick up the bill.

Except it’s not actually Brussels “rigging” anything, as the article explains later:

Up to now, MEPs have been allowed to use the funds only to campaign in elections for the European Parliament.

But in future they will be able to spend the cash campaigning where a referendum has a “direct link” to an EU issue – such as on UK membership.

So in other words, while pro-EU parties will be allowed to use EU support to campaign on the issue, anti-EU parties – EUDemocrats, for instance, who campaigned in Ireland against the Lisbon Treaty – would likewise be able to use the same funds to campaign as well. It’s not Brussels co-ordinating these campaigns either – it’s a matter for the individual European political parties representatives in each country.

(Edit: Zelo Street points out that this just a proposal taken from a draft report – there have been no changes to party funding, so this story is doubly ludicrous.)

Still, it’s funny that the Express considers running “propaganda” about Europe to be “vote rigging”.

Is this an example of vote rigging, Daily Express?

How about this?

Or this?

This?

Or indeed this?

Is this?

I could go on… so I will.

Is this propaganda “vote rigging”?

Perhaps this is?

Or maybe this?

What about this ludicrous scare story?

Does this count?

Does this?

Surely this must?

And how about this, or this?

Since the Daily Express clearly feels so strongly about any attempt to rig a referendum using biased or blatantly untrue propaganda, I wonder how long it will be before they furiously denounce the articles linked above.

Any second now…

Edit: This post originally claimed that UKIP would be eligible for funding, but although they are members of the Europe of Freedom and Democracy group, they are not members of a pan-European party at present, which would be required before they could be funded.

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An Express Crusade that’s even more pointless than usual

DAVID Cameron was last night challenged to make May 5 the day that Britain decides whether to quit the European Union.

The Daily Express stepped up its crusade for the UK to cut ties with Brussels by calling for the planned referendum on electoral reform to be turned into a historic vote on EU membership.

Leading MPs and campaigners backed the move. Tory MP Peter Bone, of the Better Off Out group, said: “This is a splendid idea by the Daily Express. It makes absolute sense.”

“A splendid idea that makes absolute sense”, except that it is impossible. The wording of the referendum question is set out in the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act, which received Royal Assent on the 16th of February. There has to be a minimum of 10 weeks between the bill passing and the day of the referendum, so the Electoral Commission can decide which groups officially represent each side of the debate; if the question was changed or a new question was added, you’d need an amendment or a new bill to change the questions on the paper and that would reset the clock – especially since in this case, the Electoral Commission would suddenly be tasked with not only registering all pro-AV and anti-AV groups, but also pro-EU and anti-EU groups as well.

We’re now way closer to May 5th than 10 weeks; even if Parliament could somehow draft, debate and pass a European Referendum Bill in one night (and it would have to be Parliament – David Cameron doesn’t have any magical amendment powers here), the new question would need another 10 week waiting period. It simply could not be done any sooner.

Conservative MPs Peter Bone and Philip Davies, Labour MP Kate Hoey and UKIP MEP Nigel Farage all put their weight behind this idea even though all of them must know it wouldn’t be possible;* after all, the media made so much of the 10 week deadline that it would be impossible to be oblivious. Still, I’m sure they must have had important reasons to support something that would be illegal (trying to change a referendum question less than 10 weeks beforehand), unconstitutional (David Cameron pushing the amendment without support from either House) and impractical (writing, reading, debating, reporting on and passing a bill on an issue as critically important and controversial as the European Union in a matter of weeks) besides an excuse to get their names in the paper next to a burning European flag…

Right?

* Incidentally, at the time when it was possible – though still massively impractical – to put this question into the bill, none of the MPs proposed putting a question like this into the referendum. Funny, that.

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Different refugees, same scare story

A few weeks ago, the Daily Star ran a fairly shameful piece which claimed that “Thousands of illegal immigrants will flee riot-torn Egypt and flood to Britain, the leader of Nato has warned” even though the Nato Secretary-General had been talking about what may happen to the whole of the EU (not Britain in particular) if unrest in North Africa damaged the Middle East peace process. Tabloid Watch has a very good takedown of that story.

Anyway, today its stablemate the Daily Express has a very similar piece, this time about the situation in Libya: UN tells Britain to open its doors to refugees.

BRITAIN faces a wave of migrants from Libya after a demand from the UN yesterday that Europe opens its borders to refugees.

The article appears to be based to be based on an interview with Baroness Amos, who leads the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, on the Today programme yesterday. As quoted by the Express, she said:

“In asking for the borders of neighbouring countries like Tunisia and Egypt to stay open, it is important that EU borders also stay open.

“I know the EU countries are going through a difficult financial time but they are still much better off than people who are fleeing a violent and difficult situation in Libya.

“We will continue to ask the EU and neighbouring countries to keep their borders open.”

This is a less a “demand” and a more a very politely worded “If you wouldn’t mind…“; the European Union’s borders are already open to refugees fleeing Libya, and have been since the start. More importantly, she doesn’t mention Britain once. Nothing here supports the Express‘s claim that a “wave” of Libyan migrants is heading that way – it would after all be very difficult for anyone displaced by the fighting (almost certainly without access to much money) to, at short notice in a country with virtually no infrastructure, travel all the way from Libya to Britain, when there are other countries much nearer – not just Tunisia and Egypt but Italy and Spain as well.

Indeed, the question she was answering makes it clear that this isn’t about Britain at all, it’s about Mediterranean countries who actually would expect to receive some refugees from the conflict:

What about the role of the European Union, both in the short and in the longer term? If there’s going to be a large number of people who are displaced and who are very close to the European Union’s southern border, it does sort of raise a whole set of new questions, doesn’t it, over the way in which the EU deals with people who are often very desperate and trying to get into the EU?

Unless the UK has suddenly become part of Europe’s southern border, none of this has anything to do with migration to Britain. The Daily Express has co-opted an ongoing human rights crisis and turned it into yet another immigration scare story. Even the Daily Mail, not normally known for its balanced coverage of stories about refugees and asylum, has managed to be reasonable about the situation in Libya.

Sure enough, while the Mail has a mixture of comments both sympathetic and unsympathetic to the refugees, only one comment on the Express‘s article doesn’t demand that we “SEND EM ALL BACK”* – and that comment is just pointing out that the UN asked, it didn’t demand. The other comments look like this:

I’d like to tell the UN where they can stick this proposal – and it wouldn’t be anywhere pleasant. Libya & its people are not our problem; we have a shortage of decent jobs & affordable housing for our own people, so letting in yet more foreigners is preposterous. These people need to stay in Libya & weather the storm.

If this does happen,people we must act not just chat on paper sites.This country is dieing and cameron is no doctor.More mouths more human rights to pander to and more death on our streets.The world can go stuff itself my england has had a running sore since labour got into power,IMMIGRANTS.Increase foreign aid dave,well his big society must refer to the big foreign society that darkens our shores.Their will be blood,I really hope the bnp in power sends them all packing,I’ll be there waving them a good british clear off.Two fingers optional.

NOW IS THE TIME TO TELL THESE MIGRANT WORKERS TO GO BACK TO THEIR OWN COUNTRIES. WE IN THE UK ARE FED UP OF BEING DUMPED ON BY THE REST OF THE WORLD AND ESPECIALLY THE EU.
THE ROMANS HAD A GREAT IDEA A CENSUS MAKING ALL IT’S PEOPLE GO BACK TO THEIR PLACE OF BIRTH SOMETHING THAT LEADING POLITCIANS SHOULD THINK ABOUT FOR TODAYS SOCIETY.

Oh joy. Why is it always us that get told what to do regarding refugees? We already have 1.5 million from labors criminal actions plus a further 1 million illegals. The vast majority of these are Muslim and the chances are that Libyan, Egyptian and Tunisian are Muslim as well. We can no longer support the huge number of migrants that want to come here and seriously put the religious balance at risk. I have a suggestion for the UN. Get Russia to take them. I would think that if the immigrants were not going to Western Europe but to some place out on the Steppes they might prefer to stay where they are and rebuild their country.

I’m sure that has nothing to do with the misleading headline, which seems carefully calculated to rile people up, right?

* There’s one other comment that’s sort of sympathetic, but, err…

However, refugees are refugees – not ‘asylum seekers, potential residents, parasites on society or disruptive elements’; they should be treated as guests and behave as such.

Moreover, while guests in a country they should be looking to return home as soon as possible – and if the international community deems that their home country is run by an ‘oppressive regime’ then these refugees sould be armed, trained and sent back to their home countries as the spearhead of a UN force to liberate their kinsmen.

That would definitely prevent the situation escalating into civil war, right? Right?

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Yet another Five plug in the Express

From last week, the BBC’s iPlayer service has been linked to various other online video services, so it acts as a catalogue of all the British TV programmes available online, regardless of whether or not they were broadcast on the BBC. All the terrestrial channels have joined, as well as MSN Video and Seesaw, so there are loads of content providers involved. All in all, this isn’t really very exciting. The shows are still hosted on the websites of the channels in question – 4od, ITV Player, Demand5 and so on – the BBC just offers links to them.

How does the Express cover this; an almost total non-story, involving all the TV channels?

CHANNEL 5 AVAILABLE ON IPLAYER of course!

At time of writing, this was higher on the Express website than “4,000 women are victims of rogue cancer causing gene”, “David Cameron under pressure to defy Europe on human rights” and “Bahrain protesters shot as ‘day of rage’ sweeps region”.

More on blatant plugs for Channel 5 in Richard Desmond’s papers from Minority Thought here and here, from Tabloid Watch here, here, here and here and from Zelo Street here. That’s a lot of heres.

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News of the World shows us how not to use statistics

Thank god for churnalism. The News of the World yesterday published an article claiming to have found the most “workshy” neighbourhood in Britain, but of course that ended up locked behind its paywall. Luckily, The Daily Express and The Daily Mail have both churned out articles based on NotW‘s, so I don’t have to pay Murdoch to read it.

The community that they claim is most “workshy” is a small area called Cottsmeadow Estate in Birmingham. Before I even go into the statistics of this, I’d like to point out that having a lot of people on benefits does not mean an area is “workshy”. Perhaps it’s an area where a major employer recently went bust. Perhaps it’s an area with a lot of affordable, accessible housing perfect for disabled people. Or perhaps, as seems to be the case here, it’s an especially deprived area, which has been very hard hit by the recession. After all, the majority of people in the area receiving benefits are getting Jobseekers Allowance (and quite a few more people are receiving income support, which means they work part-time).

Anyway, the newspapers claim that 106 people of working age live on the estate, of whom 105 are on benefits. Population statistics for individual “census output areas” are only available by request, annoyingly, so I’ll have to take that on faith for now. However, the population data is just an estimate, not a robust census, and when you’re dealing with areas as small as 100 people (out of a population of 60 million), you’re bound to have quite a bit of error in there.

The newspapers claim to have tracked down the lone worker – the mind boggles over how they could possibly have gone about this (did they go from door to door asking people “do you have a job?”), especially since the data in question dates from June of last year – in employment terms, that’s rather stale. Now, if they had found the only person on the estate who wasn’t receiving some sort of benefit, they’d almost certainly have breached the Data Protection Act – giving the name of the only person who does not receive benefits is, in effect, exactly the same as revealing everyone else does. This is precisely why the DWP anonymises their data – they randomly round each figure up or down to a multiple of 5, so you can’t work out who is or isn’t on benefits by taking advantage of small numbers.

In this case, it looks like they’ve probably underestimated the population of the area. After all, according to the statistics, three months earlier there were 110 people receiving benefits in the area (code 00CNGP0059) – more than the estimated population! This seems to be the only reason to focus on such ridiculously small areas. The data is divided into “census output areas” – the smallest division that the Office for National Statistics uses, and therefore most error prone too. Looking at the ward Cottsmeadow Estate is in, Washwood Heath, there appears to be about 4,950 people receiving benefits out of a working age population of around 15,000. This is a sample almost 150 times larger than just Cottsmeadow Estate and a much fairer way to gauge the number of people receiving benefits in the area.

These articles, had they been written properly, could have carried an important message – some areas are more deprived than others, and we need to make sure that everyone has access to work. The way the Mail and the Express (and presumably NotW, but alas I don’t have a copy of the article) cover it however completely destroys any attempt at nuance, tarring whole neighbourhoods as being full of “workshy” “scroungers”, regardless of what the statistics and basic common sense say.

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