Committing Hari-Kiri with a blunt statistic
Many people have pored over the election result, trying to suck meaning from its indeterminate outcome. Some are surer than others: Johann Hari of The Independent declared on Friday: “This is not what the people voted for”.
We’ll overlook the political analysis, taken to task by several readers in today’s Independent letters page, but Hari’s article is notable in managing to get two erroneous statistical claims into the same paragraph (below).
He asserts first that 91 per cent of Conservative MPs don’t believe man-made warming exists. What is the source of this claim? Hari does not say, but it appeared on the Labour blog Left Foot Forward on February 26, which based its story on a poll by The Times of just 34 prospective Conservative candidates.
In response to the question “Is it an established fact that climate change is man-made?” 31 of them thought not. That may, depending on your viewpoint, display either a surprising ignorance or a proper degree of scepticism, but it is hardly the same as “don’t believe man-made global warming exists”. The sample is small, we don’t know how many PPCs who were approached refused to answer, and we don’t even know how many of those candidates who did answer were elected to Parliament.
The precise questions asked by Populus for The Times were not published, but in a public poll taken at the same time by the same company, two options were offered. Respondents were asked to agree or disagree with the statements: “It is now an established scientific fact that climate change is largely man-made” (34 per cent agreed) or “There is a widespread theory that climate change is largely man-made but this has not yet been conclusively proved” (50 per cent agreed).
So the attitudes represented by the Conservative PPCs are not so far removed from those of the general public, whatever you may think of them.
Hari’s second blunder is to say that the Conservative party in the Commons – or “oddball rabble”, as he actually calls them – is five times bigger than the Lib Dems, despite getting “only 13 per cent more support”. He actually means 13 percentage points: Conservatives 36 per cent, Lib Dems 23 per cent. That’s 56 per cent more, actually.
"Incredible" is the adjective Hari uses to categorise these claims. I'd go along with that. (And yes, I do know the Japanese act of ritual suicide should really be spelt hara kiri.)