The Daily Gummidge

One of the tabloid's greatest weapons is the straw man argument. The Mail loves it, and fearlessly battles an entire army made of straw every day. Today's edition (3 March) has a brilliant example of an entire article built around a strawman 'Hounding of the don who dared to speak out on migrants'.

See, he's not being hounded for speaking out on migrants. He's being hounded because MigrationWatch play around with figures to produce a distorted image of immigration as a Bad, Bad Thing. I've blogged about this in the past, but the posts are a bit jumbled and confused because I was working out what was happening as I went along, so I'll reproduce a short summary of what was wrong with their last set of figures the tabloids went nuts for.

The MigrationWatch paper 'The Impact of Immigration on GDP per head' claimed that studies on how immigration contributes to GDP all forget to take into account how much the population has risen as a result of immigration, and that when this is taken into account, the amount contributed by immigrants is negligible, and roughly the same as the amount sent home in remittances. It focused mainly on Government figures, and those are the one the tabloids went nuts for.

MigrationWatch had tried to get their claims about the Government figures in the papers before, unsuccessfully. When they tried (and succeeded) the second time, they'd used different population growth statistics to arrive at their conclusion, which indicated to me that they didn't actually know what the Government figure for the contribution to GDP by immigrants referred to. They'd taken the figure from a comment in a Westminster Hall debate of October 2006, which didn't offer any explanation of where the number came from. I suspected that the figure had been arrived at by assuming immigrants produce the same as everyone else in the first place and that MW had been arguing over a simple difference in rounding. I emailed the Treasury to find out if I was right.

What I found out was a bit of a surprise. The £4bn didn't refer to the total contribution by immigrants at all. It was just a ballpark estimation of the amount contributed to GDP only by those from the new EU states since accession in May 2004. I thought MW might want to know they'd made such a big mistake, so I emailed them, quoting the email from the Treasury to point that out, but I never heard back and the report is still unchanged on the MigrationWatch website. I also added the information and a link to my blog post about it in the MigrationWatch Wikipedia entry, but it was edited out.

Aside from being based on an entirely wrong figure in the first place, there were other problems with MigrationWatch's report. The first is that the figure they quote for remittances of money to other countries was a total that would have been sent by anyone - not just the immigrants who had arrived on one year - and then compared that to the contribution made by the number of immigrants who had arrived in one year, which will necessarily be a much smaller group.

The second is the variety of shady tactics MigrationWatch used to make it look as though the other reports they examined also supported their conclusions. The main one was to use net immigration for the Government figures, which shows accurately how much the population has been raised by immigration, but total immigration for the others, which gives a misleadingly high figure for population increase. The others include counting children of immigrants as immigrants, counting the children of mixed parents - one immigrant and one not - as half an immigrant, assuming new EU migrants work one job, never do overtime and never get promoted, burying findings it doesn't like in footnotes and making wild guesses about the number of new EU migrants have returned to their home country.

I wasn't surprised when I didn't hear back from them and saw no change to their site.

Stories like the one in today's Mail get published all the time in the tabloids. I covered another example in 'The answer is none more black', where the Mail reported criticism of an MP for suggesting that most criminals are black without pointing out that without using qualifiers, that statement is actually false. What tends to happen is that someone will get criticised for saying something false, but the paper will suggest that they're being criticised for pointing out uncomfortable truths.

There's another interesting fact about the professor in the Mail article:
The petition also condemns his work for the Galton Institute, a charity which conducts research into eugenics, usually defined as the study of methods of improving the human race.
So, he's involved with an organisation that produces misleading and exaggerated statistics about immigration and he's into eugenics. While it might be a bit hasty to condemn the entire Eugenics movement just because (from Wikipedia):
Historically, eugenics has been used as a justification for coercive state-sponsored discrimination and human rights violations, such as forced sterilization of persons with genetic defects, the killing of the institutionalized and, in some cases, genocide of races perceived as inferior.
you have to admit that loud alarm bells start to ring about the motives of someone who is a founding member of an organisation that produces distorted and misleading statistics about the negative consequences of immigration and is into it. I'll just leave you with this quote from the Galton Institute website:
The fact that the eugenicists might couch their criticism of immigrant populations in the ‘coded language’ of national degeneration and refrain from referring to ‘aliens’ explicitly (although more than a few extremists were unrestrained in the expression of their prejudice) does not detract from the compelling evidence in favour of the fact that race had a considerable influence on the British eugenics movement, as an expression of cultural identity and, for a small but not insignificant number of extremists, as a biological category, had a considerable influence on the movement.
Sounds like a lovely bloke.

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