Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Knife crime and cooking the figures.

Apart from the Sun's inexorable hypocrisy, one of its other main exports is its shockingly bad journalism. Sometimes it's just downright laziness; on other occasions it's abundantly clear that it's both laziness and someone not having the first clue what they're talking about.

A perfect example is today's "Just one in 5,000 knife kids jailed":

"JUST one in 5,000 kids who carry knives are locked up for the crime.

Shocking figures obtained by The Sun show that of the 1,164 ten to 15-year-olds caught with blades last year, just 30 ended up behind bars.

That is a fraction of the 150,000 of that age who admitted in a Government survey to carrying a knife over the past year. Victims’ charities branded it “deeply disturbing”.

The Sun’s figures, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, show three kids a day were caught carrying a knife in England and Wales in the year up to April.


Around half escaped with a caution.

The other 600 were prosecuted, but of those just 30 — a mere five per cent — were locked up."

Of all the figures presented here, the only ones which aren't nonsensical are the ones from the Sun's freedom of information request. That's the 1,164 10-15 year-olds that were caught carrying a knife, the "around half" which "escaped" with a caution, the 600 which were prosecuted, and the 30 which were imprisoned.

The "government survey" which the Sun alludes to is the "young people and crime: findings from the 2006 Offending, Crime and Justice Survey", available as a PDF here. This is a survey based on a sample of 4,591 interviews, after the responses from those over 25 were discarded, which has been weighted to the population at large. The survey found that 3% of 10-25-year-olds had carried a knife in the past year; of this 3%, 46% had carried a pen knife, 20% a flick knife and 12% a kitchen knife, while 54% of that 3% had only carried the knife once or twice during the year, with 18% carrying it three or four times and 17% 10 times or more. Only 4% of this 3% had used the knife to threaten someone, and just 1% of this 3% had actually used it to injure someone.

The Mail, helpfully, extrapolated this 3% to be equivalent to 353,000 young people carrying a knife at least once a year when it reported the survey's findings, although without providing the ultimate figure from which they've worked this out. The Sun is only interested in the 10 to 15-year-olds who have carried a knife, further lowering the 353,000 extrapolation to 150,000, again without providing a base figure for its working. The 5,000 in the headline is then arrived at by simply dividing 150,000 by 30 - the number of those given a custodial sentence.

Any insight that might have been provided by the survey is then completely lost in both the extrapolating and in the complete lack of any explanation. The way the article is written makes it seem as if the 150,000 had directly admitted to carrying a knife - when that itself is a figure that has been arrived at first from a weighted survey, and then by re-calculating the 3% to just include the 10-15 year-olds rather than those up to 25 who were also covered in the survey. Nowhere in the article is there space for it to be pointed out that of the original 3%, over half only carried the knife once or twice over the year, and even then it was a pen knife, which many carry without so much as a thought on a key-ring. Nowhere does the hack responsible, Rhodri Phillips provide the extended quote which the "victims' charities" gave, nor does it explain which victims' charities they were. Nowhere is it questioned whether prison, or a young offenders' institution is the best place for someone between the ages of 10 to 15 to be sent for being caught once carrying a bladed item. Being the liberal lunatic I am, I think such a penalty is only likely exacerbate the problem in the long-term. Finally, just to add insult to injury, the Sun asks for comments for how readers would punish "yobs", which anyone carrying any sort of blade at any time anywhere must instantly be:

"and i wish the other 4,999 got knifed themselves."

In this age of churnalism, the Sun's lazy and dishonest journalism has already spread, with this Telegraph (yep, the Telegraph) article almost certainly being knocked out almost in its entirety from the Sun's original, with some additional figures from the Met's Operation Blunt 2 being tacked on to the end. Here, aspiring journalists, is your lesson in the ways of the industry.


Tim said...

One of The Sun's favourite games is passing itself off as harmless one minute and influential the next, but there's no question regarding their influence, especially when one considers echoes of their nonsense presented elsewhere as fact.

Cyburn said...

As usual its the Sun and other Tabloids job to make everyone think that any young person is gonna stab you.l