Thursday, 1 September 2011

Bad statistics: the immigration debate


If you took just a cursory glance at the figures for immigration at the end of last month, you'd be forgiven for thinking that immigration was going up. Tabloid press coverage of 'Migrate Britain' screamed out, giving the entirely misleading impression that immigration was increasing. Have a look at this particularly bone-headed example.

It's not. It actually stayed static, or even gone down a little.

Net immigration - the difference between the numbers of people coming and leaving - has gone up.

But that's because fewer people are leaving.

This is how you turn a good news story into a bad news day, spread fear and panic, and totally distort the debate. Which should, of course, focus on the Government's controversial plans to cut visiting student numbers - still the main reason why people travel to Britain. And on the extreme unlikelihood of reaching the coalition's rash and unworkable target of cutting non-EU migration to 'tens of thousands' by the next election.

Ben Goldacre has for years done sterling work exposing bad science. Do we need a bad statistics column now as well?

NB Traffic on the site had another record month in August - despite the fact that many people will have been away. Thank you, loyal readers! Keep checking back - I appreciate it, and hope to have something interesting to say at least two or three times a week.

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