Friday, 30 October 2009

Weekly links

Links from the week:

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Bad science, lazy reporting, and a side order of heteronormativity

Some articles, you can read the first paragraph, or maybe the headline, and get an instant sense that it bears no relation to the real story.

So, the BBC is reporting on a recent paper in the European Journal of Operational Research. First mistake: the paper is described as being by a Bath University team. Of the five authors, only one (Fragnière, the second author), is from Bath, so this seems to be stretching the definition a bit. The others are from various Swiss institutions. So, no prizes for guessing the source of the press release.

Second mistake: the BBC says:

The researchers studied interviews of more than 1,500 couples who were married or in a serious relationship.

Five years later, they followed up 1,000 of the couples to see which had lasted.

The paper itself says:

We use data from the 1999 Swiss contemporary family survey by Widmer et al., 2003. This is a representative random sample of 1534 couples, married or unmarried, ages 18–75, residing in the three linguistic areas of Switzerland. In 2004, the authors did a follow-up study on 1074 of those couples to determine how many had separated (Widmer et al., 2006 E.D. Widmer, J. Kellerhals and R. Levy, Types of conjugal interactions and conjugal conflict: A Longitudinal Assessment, European Sociological Review 20 (2006), pp. 63–77.Widmer et al., 2006).

Someone else did that research. They used that research as a basis for their own work. There's a huge difference there.

Both the paper and the BBC, unnaturally, say "couples" when they mean "male-female couples".

The BBC then says:

They found that if the wife was five or more years older than her husband, they were more than three times as likely to divorce than if they were the same age.

If the age gap is reversed, and the man is older than the woman, the odds of marital bliss are higher.

The latter "finding" isn't statistically significant, however.

Add in a better education for the woman - Beyonce has her high school diploma, unlike husband Jay-Z - and the chances of lasting happiness improve further.

The paper really doesn't imply this at all. It finds statistically a significant difference where marriages between people at different educational levels are more likely to last the full five years than marriages between people at the same educational level. The paper doesn't give the 95% significance range, only the value and whether this is significant at the 95% level, so while the five-year stability is increased more for marriages where the female partner is more educated than for those where the male partner is more educated, both are increased above the baseline.

Back to the BBC

Those who have never divorced fare better too. But couples in which one member has been through a divorce in the past are less stable than those in which both members are divorcees.

The only case that is statistically significantly different to the baseline case they chose (neither divorced) is where the male partner is formerly divorced but the female partner is not.

That's three of the four factors discussed. Here's the fourth, which is larger than the age one and doesn't get a mention. From the paper:

Wife and husband are both Swiss (REF)    -

Wife and husband are both from Western countries    3.451*

So, yes, if you want a stable marriage, the best approach is to be Swiss and marry someone else who is Swiss. British readers of BBC news are somewhat out of luck. (Note: this result may not generalise outside Switzerland, but then, the others might not either)

This, incidentally, has all been drawn from the first three chapters of the paper. The press release, and the BBC, seem to have stayed away from the fourth chapter onwards, probably because it then starts to get very strange. There's a slight hint of it in Fragnière's quote in the BBC article.

The researchers constructed a model where they'd take the demographics from the study, and their found weightings for the data, and then swap people around between couples to produce the set of couples with the lowest predicted divorce rate. That didn't make it into the news article, did it. I bet it didn't get as far as the press release before someone in Bath Uni's marketing department thought "this sounds a bit creepy".

To create our optimization model, we assumed a central matrimonial agency with knowledge of all the characteristics of all potential mates, whose mission is to optimize romantic matches.

Okay, maybe more than a bit.

The researchers acknowledge that this swap (99.81% of the couples were found to be "incorrect") is based on a whole bunch of limitations, and might not actually give the same result in reality (they don't suggest trying it, but they do suggest using these factors to give hints in matchmaking services)

There are several practical issues related to our model that we would like to address at this point. This study refers to married, or formerly married couples, and this does not take into account the odds of initially liking each other. In a real case of “marriage agency” the quality of the allocation must also include high probability of liking each other from the beginning. Moreover, in the real world the size of the men and women sets is different, which obviously is not represented in the model since our sample solely contained information about couples. These certainly represent limitations of our model

(emphasis mine)

A major limitation that they've not addressed is the sexuality of these couples. There are probably enough bisexual people within these couples that a straightforward swap of one man for another won't always be "optimal. Of course, that would complicate the mathematical model significantly, so it's not surprising that they didn't try it, but it is disappointing (and also not surprising) that they didn't notice and/or acknowledge this as a limitation.

It's not the first painfully heteronormative study around relationships, and it won't be the last.

So yes, a study of already dubious value, combined with some even worse reporting. Specifically, I think, "copying the press release without verifying it", since the New Zealand Herald, the Daily Mail, and the Telegraph all make similar mistakes (and all use one or both of the same two celebrity couples as examples). I wonder how many of the journalists bothered to use their news organisations subscriptions to check out the original paper (since none of them mentioned the last three chapters, I guess none)

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Monday, 26 October 2009

"False" allegations in schools

[trigger warning]

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers has recently released the results of a study about "false allegations" made against its members. Reading the reports in the news, I couldn't help feeling the discussion was moving in an all too familiar direction.

The comparision with allegations of false allegations of rape seems rather obvious, not least because there's going to be an unpleasant range of overlap between "allegations of misconduct by school staff" and "allegations of rape and sexual assault", and it seems to be attracting much the same dubious lines of argument.

So, similarities. The teachers are in a position of power, the pupils are not. The consequences of reputation for false allegations are strongly emphasised (and I don't dispute, incidentally, that it would be very stressful to be in that position), whereas the effect on the children of incidents that lead to true allegations are barely mentioned: in the ATL press release (1250 words), only these 25 mention the possibility that accusations might be true: "We all accept the protection of children is paramount, but that should not be at the expense of natural justice - school staff have rights too."

Their statistics seem rather dubious, too (which is another similarity). Ignoring the "don't know" responses (which is being generous, I think), the ratio is 50:18 believe that a false accusation has taken place in their school.

28% say that they have a false allegation made by a pupil against them personally, and 17% say that they have one made by a family member. We can assume some overlap between these two categories, though the results don't say how much. 368 of 1155 responded to the question asking how the allegation was treated, which is 32%.

Let's assume, for internal consistency, that everyone who had an allegation made against them answered 'yes' to "someone in my school has had an allegation made against them".1

So, if we take these figures at face value, about a third of staff have had a false allegation made against them. Of those who have not, then about a quarter know that someone else at their school has been the subject of one, about a quarter are confident enough that no-one has to say so, and half don't know for certain.

Let's take a large primary school with around 24 teaching and teaching-related staff. On average, 8 of those staff will have had a false allegation made, and 4 of the other staff will know of at least one of these cases. For a secondary school with around 120 staff, 40 will have had a false allegation, but only 20 others will be aware of any of these. (Incidentally, if these figures are accurate, then the confidentiality around the cases must be holding really well, which makes reputational damage less likely)

This seems somewhat unlikely. The press release doesn't say anything about how the survey data was gathered, but there's no polling/survey company named, which suggests it was internal, which makes me suspicious. ATL has 160,000 members, so 1155 is less than 1% of them. Looking around their website, it seems that their normal survey method is to rely on voluntary responses.

This, of course, means that there's no attempt at getting a representative sample, and there's far more incentive for people who have been the subject of a false allegation to reply to the survey. I think it's incredibly likely that the survey is going to significantly overstate the scale of the problem.

Similarly, the quoted situations in the press release are presumably near to the worst case (for the teachers - the worst case for a pupil makes most of those seem mild), rather than a representative sample of what actually happens.

The BBC article also includes the following, presumably from a previous press release:

Last year, the union, which has 160,000 members across the UK, said pupils who made malicious false allegations about teachers should be placed on a school register to protect other staff.

The union said these records should be forwarded if a pupil moves.

It also called for charges to be brought against children as young as 10 who made false allegations.

Given that schools do not have a good record on dealing with bullying, and given that there's already a significant inevitable power imbalance between teacher and pupil, I don't think it's at all a good idea to place more risks and obstacles in the way of someone wanting to report misconduct. Seriously, charges?

The ATL claims from the survey that 50% of false allegations were dismissed instantly. I wonder what percentage of true allegations are also dismissed instantly and mistakenly.

1 The survey asks about their current school in one, and them personally in another, so if the allegation happened to them at a previous school and they didn't know of any at their current school, they could answer "inconsistently". On the other hand, the strict wording of the question is not "has this taken place at your current school" but "has it happened to anyone working at your current school".

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Sunday, 25 October 2009

Racism and language

So, Mark Easton at the BBC (warning: the comments are generally worse than the article) complains about the difficulties in talking about race. Now, I admit, that it's a complex subject, and it's one that I know far less about than I should. On the other hand, he seems far too willing to give up on it.

Discussing race in this country is to walk on egg-shells. When even an experienced signed-up multiculturalist like Mr Straw gets caught out, it becomes obvious how difficult it is even to find the language in which to conduct a grown-up debate about it.

I have talked to ordinary voters about the subject, there is often discomfort over terminology. Some fear that using the word "black" might be construed as evidence of racism, so they opt for an even more contentious term - "coloured" - in the belief that this will soften their argument.

A few months ago, I received an e-mail from a Chinese viewer who told me he had been offended by my use of the word "Asian" when what I really meant was people who hailed from the Indian sub-continent. On another occasion I was taken to task for the phrase "non-white" - a shorthand for all ethnic minorities which was deemed insulting.

People generally don't want to offend and the shifting sands of acceptable racial vocabulary mean that many dare not even step into the territory. It is a dangerous domain - one false move and you are branded a bigot.

That really depends what you've just said. There are two types of wrong descriptions of races, ethnicities and nationalities.

  • Those which people are just expected to know are insulting. (Non-bigoted equivalent example: "arsehole")
  • Those which are archaic or inaccurate. In general, the first time you get this wrong, you'll get a polite correction. The bigot brand comes when you refuse the correction and loudly insist on using it anyway. Conversely, if you have a reputation for politely accepting and implementing corrections, you're more likely to get the benefit of the doubt for different mistakes in future

For either individuals or groups there's a responsibility to make an effort to find out when it becomes relevant what they identify themselves as. In other contexts, people have no problem with this at all - I identify, in terms of nationality, as British, English, Northern, and Yorkshire.

  • I don't identify as European, despite this being geographically true, and despite being on balance pro-EU, but I don't mind being described as such.
  • I don't identify as from County Durham, despite having lived there for several years, but I might say I'm "from Durham" if asked where I was from.
  • Someone from Scotland might want to be pedantic about my identification as Northern, based on the fact that there's about as much of Britain north of here as there is south, but if they called me Southern based on that I would not be happy.

Similarly, someone from Scotland wouldn't identify as English (or even necessarily British), and the archaic term "Scotch" would also be insulting because of its history of use.

Identifying people as they wish to be identified (and noting that this might change over time as previously innocuous terms get used as insults) really isn't that difficult a principle to stick to.

As regards his examples:

  • Afro-Caribbean vs African-Caribbean: the woman in the audience said explicitly which one she preferred, including pronunciation. You don't even need to research any of the history behind the two terms at that point.
  • Black vs Coloured: a quick glance at the names of various organisations makes this really obvious.
  • Asian/Chinese/Indian sub-continent: in the UK, "Asian", as a description of people, tends to mean "South Asian". In the US, it tends to mean "East Asian". So, using a term to mean something other than the obvious meaning of "from the continent of Asia" is going to be insulting to the people you didn't refer to: in the same way that saying "American" to mean "from the USA" gives some Canadians offence (and the entire South American continent even more), and using "European" to refer only to the Iberian peninsula would be considered strange. Even without the insult and disappearance of entire countries, it's an imprecise term that a journalist has no business using to mean "Indian sub-continent".
  • non-white: describing people, extremely broadly, as "not in the privileged group" makes the various differences between those people disappear, and problematically sets "white" as a default. There are relatively few cases where this sort of term is needed: in the UK, BAME (Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic[ities]) can be used instead as a more positive identifier (like LGBTQIA, variants with fewer letters also appear).

I can't help feeling that Mr Easton using the corrections as a learning experience, and doing some research, might have been more useful than complaining about how difficult it was to talk about race nowadays.

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Friday, 23 October 2009

Weekly links

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

No recourse to public funds

I mentioned the No Recourse to Public Funds mass lobby of Parliament last week. Living up in the North, there's no chance of getting down to London on a weekday. Amnesty International have a page of alternative actions - here's the text of the letter to my local Councillors based on their suggestions.

Under the "no recourse to public funds" rule it is not possible for many non-citizens to claim benefits such as housing benefit and income support. An unpleasant consequence of this rule is that people trapped in an abusive relationship are often unable to use shelters for the victims of domestic violence, as they are unable to claim the benefits that the refuges use for funding, which would be available to UK citizens who were victims of domestic violence.

Could you please tell me:

  1. What measures Durham County Council has in place to ensure that victims of domestic violence who are affected by the "no recourse to public funds" rule are able to access the services that they require.
  2. What pressure the Council is placing on central government to ensure that its costs for providing these services are covered.
  3. What steps the Council plans to take more generally to improve the range of services available for victims of domestic violence.

WriteToThem provides contact forms for your Councillors as well as MPs, which makes this a bit easier.

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Representativeness of Parliament

The BBC reports on a recent discussion in Parliament about the (lack of) representativeness of the general population its MPs provide.

All three straight white male leaders of the major political parties were questioned on the subject, and all gave similar answers. It's interesting, and hopeful, that there is a broad consensus among the party leaders that the current state of Parliament is not suitable for representing the population, and that all parties need to do more to ensure a more diverse set of future candidates.

Whether any of this is going to have any actual effect will remain to be seen. There seem to be lots of words and much less planned action from all three parties, as well as a fair amount of denial of responsibility for the problem. At this stage, too, most of the candidates will already have been selected.

The reaction from the internet has been fairly predictable: "people should be elected on their merits", "best person white man for the job", etc. There's a fairly big flaw in that argument which I'll dissect later.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Another BMI vs life expectancy study

This meta-study from Germany by Lenz, Richter and Mühlhauser looks at the correlation between weight and death due to various conditions.

As is usual for these studies (the NHANES data from the USA, and a more recent Canadian study, for example), the result was that - on average - being "overweight" was correlated with fewer all-cause deaths than "normal weight" (though, like NHANES, not statistically significantly). Some individual causes were more common in lighter people, some were more common in heavier people. "obese" was not statistically significantly different from "normal weight" in some cases, and the effect was otherwise minor.

This quote from page 646 (the PDF is an extract and translation from a journal, so page 6 of the PDF file) is quite telling:

In addition, the medical literature primarily analyzes those diseases for which an effect through overweight or obesity is plausible to exist. Thus, there is a suspected investigational and publication bias for diseases that appear to be favored by overweight or obesity.

This assumption is supported by the results of the mortality analyses: all cause mortality is not increased in overweight individuals. This parameter is made up of disease-specific mortality risks for each disease. Many of the diseases analyzed here yield elevated risks. Accordingly, there must also be still unidentified diseases with a reduced risk.

In other words, people are looking, in great detail and with lots of funding, for diseases that might kill fat people, especially ones where they can think of a plausible reason that it might. Far fewer people are looking for diseases that might kill thin people. It's therefore not surprising that being fat appears more dangerous, but actually, it's just that we don't know what does (statistically) kill thin people.

There's a similar effect, which the paper also discusses, regarding non-fatal illnesses that more often affect fat people and more often affect thin people: again, illnesses primarily affecting fat people are well-documented and researched. No-one's entirely sure what illnesses thin people get, which will not help you if you're both thin and ill.

The paper doesn't discuss correlation versus causation for any of the diseases. To some extent in this context it doesn't matter whether the disease affects you because of your weight, or whether the disease and the weight are both connected to some underlying factor: either way, diseases primarily affecting thin people are underresearched - which leads to the assumption of thin=healthy, fat=unhealthy, and a whole mess of policies and public messages based on this clearly wrong assumption.

From page 647 (page 7 of the PDF)

There are also confounding factors the effect of which are plausible, but cannot be quantified. In the risk of developing diabetes these include undiagnosed cases that are more frequently discovered in overweight and obese persons (e44). It is suspected that greater attention is paid to diabetes in these groups.

In other words, diabetes may be detected more in heavier people because previous research has suggested that heavier people are more likely to have diabetes, which means that doctors are more likely to check fat people for diabetes, which means it's more likely to be discovered, which means future research can note the correlation.

Nice to know that our "biggest health challenge" may be based entirely on some extremely badly-done statistics and (unintentionally) selective research.

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The press, and the accountability of the press

So, large parts of the UK internet have been rightly angry at Jan Moir's Daily Mail article. The Press Complaints Commission received over 21,000 complaints about the article, which apparently is more than they normally get in several years - the objections to the article have been widespread enough to get their own stories.

Meanwhile, the Daily Express publishes an attack on people with mental ill-health, and the Daily Mail and the BBC publish some more transphobic reports. Neither appears to have been noticed, much. Nor do many of the other pieces of bigoted reporting - whether transphobic, sexist, ablist, racist, homophobic, fat-hating, or otherwise - that can be found published by most news organisations on most days of the week.

Moir - horrific though their opinions and subsequent attempted defence were - seems to have become the target of so many complaints by attacking a recently deceased popular celebrity (and their family), rather than because of their bigotry. What gets noticed on the internet is often largely a matter of luck - good or bad - which of course means that the majority of these attitudes never receive much mainstream challenge.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Weekly links

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Sexism and open source software

The_Great_Indoors in comments at Shakesville mentioned these writings by Bruce Byfield: original article, and his later comments on the (predictable) response.

It reminds me of the research done back in 2006 for the EU on this - D16 and D17 are the relevant documents - which said much the same thing. It's hardly surprising that it hasn't changed.

As an occasional open-source developer myself, and someone who uses open-source software a lot, it doesn't surprise me that this is a problem. Eric Raymond's statement, quoted in both Byfield's article and in the FlossPols research, that:

Hackerdom is still predominantly male. However, the percentage of women is clearly higher than the low-single-digit range typical for technical professions, and female hackers are generally respected and dealt with as equals…. …When asked, hackers often ascribe their culture's gender- and color-blindness to a positive effect of text-only network channels, and this is doubtless a powerful influence. Also, the ties many hackers have to AI research and SF literature may have helped them to develop an idea of personhood that is inclusive rather than exclusive -- after all, if one's imagination readily grants full human rights to future AI programs, robots, dolphins, and extraterrestrial aliens, mere color and gender can't seem very important any more.

It's fairly obvious that what actually happens is everyone gets assumed to be the default. The text-only communication doesn't mean that race and gender become unimportant; it just means that everyone is assumed to be a white man.

In the scenario he imagines, what would actually happen is that everyone would also be assumed to be an organic Earth-born human, and female robotic dolphins from Mars would just have to put up with that assumption. Certainly, even now, ablism, homophobia, transphobia, and other common forms of discrimination are also commonplace. I'll, for simplicity, just discuss the effects of sexism, as a shorthand for the range of intersecting discriminations.

The consequence of assuming that everyone is a man is that sexism gets expressed and goes largely unchallenged by the other people around who are also men, which creates an unwelcoming environment for everyone who isn't.

This environment puts off potential developers, but of course it also puts off potential users, and since most developers of open-source software are firstly users of that software (with the exception of the initial developers, of course), that further makes developers less likely.

Given that open-source software basically survives or disappears into obscurity based on the number of users and number of developers, you'd think that not being actively hostile to 50% of your potential user base made sense.

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Monday, 12 October 2009

More fat-hate

So, from the BBC, comes the news that fat children reject the idea of weight-loss surgery. Well, it's not known to work for actual long-term weight loss, weight loss isn't known to be good for health (and in many cases can be bad), and has a significant risk of killing the patient. Maybe our education system isn't as bad as the papers say.

42% report being bullied for their size, 58% think that their weight will stop them getting a boyfriend or girlfriend and "a similar percentage" believe that it will harm their career prospects.

Given the relentless media imagery of "fat is bad", those percentages are actually better than I expected. Expect government intervention to increase size-related bullying and condemn fat sexuality shortly.

A Department of Health spokesman said: "Obesity is the biggest health challenge we face.

Really? A condition that's arbitrarily defined, has no statistically significant effect on lifespan for most groups, and is undoubtedly less harmful than malnutrition or starvation, is the biggest health challenge we face? I worry about that mindset.

Friday, 9 October 2009

More links

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Back in the 70s, racism was funny, right?

Bruce Forsyth, white celebrity, decides to make some silly statements about his colleague Du Beke's statements. The BBC says.

Speaking on Wednesday, Forsyth told Talksport that, in the past, the "slip up" would have been treated in a more light-hearted way.

"You go back 25, 30, 40 years and there has always been a bit of humour about the whole thing."

You go back 25, 30 years and there were riots in Brixton over racism. You go back 40ish years and Malcolm X and Martin Luther King were being assassinated in the US for trying to prevent racism.

Racism would have been funny for (some) white people back then, of course, and being white, Forsyth may not have noticed any of this.

Of course, nowadays, racism isn't funny at all. That's why no-one performs in blackface anymore and racist jokes aren't told today. Likewise, the racist killing of black people has stopped. There'd never be a need to arrest suspected white supremacists on terrorism charges, or interracial couples being shot in the streets today. All from the last month, those, and mostly from the last week. If I listed all the similar stories from the last month, this would be a very long post indeed.

Forsyth, after numerous phone calls to the radio show to complain about his statement, and journalists asking what he actually meant, "clarified".

"Nor do I in any way excuse or condone the use of such language. To be absolutely clear, the use of racially offensive language is never either funny or acceptable."

Where "clarified" means "said something entirely different". The rest of this "clarification" makes this clearer.

"However, there is a major difference between this and racist comments which are malicious in intent and whilst I accept that we live in a world of extraordinary political correctness, we should keep things in perspective."

Translated: "Malicious racism isn't funny, but political correctness means that we can't find non-malicious racism funny either". The fact that intent only matters if you're giving out racists statements, not if you're receiving them, doesn't seem to have crossed his mind either.

Another non-apology for racism, another host extremely unlikely to lose their BBC job. (Forsyth is male, so this doesn't really give us any more information on "A Second Thought"'s hypothesis, though)

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Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Disability benefits and the government

Via Mind and The F-Word, the Conservatives seem to be agreeing with Labour's plans to move people from disability benefits to unemployment benefits.

The whole thing is based on the belief that there is a significant proportion of people claiming disability benefits who don't need them, and that the good to society of removing these claims (in tax income that can be spent elsewhere) will exceed the harm to society (in additional tax income that needs to be spent on the new stricter assessments1, and more importantly in personal stress to the majority of genuine claimants, who will either have to jump through an additional set of hoops, or who will lose benefits they need). I don't think either part of that is true. Neither is it true - certainly not at the moment, but not really even when the economy was doing better - that there are jobs available for these people to take anyway.

Amy's F-Word post goes into a lot of detail on the issue, including the issue of "invisible" disabilities - the sort which stricter assessment is most likely to wrongly disbelieve.

There's a petition to the government on this.

1 More on this bit later, after I've had time for research.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Just trying to be helpful, right?

A member of Sainsbury's staff attempted to prevent a woman from buying Cheddar because she appeared pregnant.

The unnamed member of staff was correct that:

  • Ms Lehain, as it happens, was pregnant
  • The Cheddar in question was unpasteurised

The member of staff was not correct in that:

  • Unpasteurised cheese does not present a health risk at Ms Lehain's stage of pregnancy
  • It's none of their business what she eats anyway.

Sainsbury's, of course, tried to wriggle their way out of it...

Sainsbury's said it did not have a policy of refusing sale of goods on the grounds that they might be unsuitable for pregnant women.

But it said it did ask staff to make customers aware of any safety concerns.

Let's do a quick thought experiment to see if this is true:

  • Would you expect Sainsbury's (or any other store) to warn shoppers buying bacon that regular consumption of it has been linked to a small rise in the chance of cancer?
  • Would you expect Sainsbury's (or any other store) to warn shoppers - verbally and forcefully, not merely with labels on the packaging - that the cigarettes or alcohol that they are purchasing have serious health effects?
  • Would you expect Sainsbury's (or any other store) to warn shoppers buying kitchen knives that they are sharp, and refuse to sell them to people who (in the flawed assessment of their staff, of course) are insufficiently dextrous?

Quite clearly it's actually because pregnant women are public property. This is hardly the first time that a pregnant (or mistaken for such) woman has been refused service on similar grounds.

(As an aside, I find it interesting that the term "nanny state" can now be applied to entirely private-sector bodies, but of course it's the attitude rather than the actor that's the problem here)

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Monday, 5 October 2009

An apology is all you need

The BBC is "standing by" Anton Du Beke after calls for him to be sacked.

Like Carol Thatcher, Du Beke used an obvious racist term. Unlike Thatcher, Du Beke apologised. Sort of.

I must say immediately and categorically that I am not a racist and that I do not use racist language.

[attempted explanation of context]

There was no racist intent whatsoever but I accept that it is a term which causes offence and I regret my use of it, which was done without thought or consideration of how others would react.

I apologise unreservedly for any offence my actions might have caused.

Well, the first sentence gets off to a bad start. We can probably assume that the BBC wouldn't misquote its own staff, so it seems that he doesn't consider "Paki" to be racist language. That makes the rest of the apology seem rather insincere, and it ends with the typical apologies for offence that "might have" been caused, which doesn't help.

If you're getting in an apology in advance for something that hasn't yet received complaint, but for which you realise you probably shouldn't have said, then such hypothetical language is perhaps okay. If the complaints are already in, and they are, it smells of minimisation.

I said earlier that the I found the BBC didn't make me annoyed so much by its reporting as other media organisations when the facts themselves were bad enough. Between this, and the other recent mentions ... well, it's still true ... but it's more an indictment of the media in general than a compliment to the BBC.

"A Second Thought" thinks there may be some sexism involved in the different treatments of Thatcher and Du Beke, too. It's unlikely to be the last time that a BBC staff member can't keep away from the racist insults, so this should sadly be reasonably quick to test.

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Friday, 2 October 2009

Links without much comment

It's been a busy week, so I've probably missed a lot of things. Ones that I haven't include: