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Thursday 29 September 2011

To Profess Allegiance To Dacre

The phrase “lies, damn lies, and statistics” may be thought overused by those who do not see the way in which statistics are routinely manipulated to fit the headlines ordered by the Daily Mail’s legendarily foul mouthed editor. And one order is both paramount and sacrosanct: that not only is the UK a Christian country, but it also must be seen and shown to be one.

Moreover, homosexuality is A Very Bad Thing, and so it must be shown to be thus at every opportunity. So a release of data yesterday from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) has been gratefully churned over by obedient hack Steve Doughty, who has also used the opportunity to lay into the BBC for ordering something that it didn’t order on expressing dates.

At first, the figures appear to support the Mail view that “70% of us claim to be Christians ... and only 1.5% are gay”, but a little examination of the questions asked shows that not to be the case. On sexuality, 94.7% identified themselves as heterosexual or straight. So to assert that “only 1.5% are gay” is characteristically misleading. And “identified themselves as” is not the same as “are”.

But this does allow Doughty to lay into “Gay lobbyists and politicians” who “have long claimed that 10 per cent of the population is homosexual”. It also enables the Mail’s dubiously talented array of pundits to trivialise gays, while giving the green light to Dicky Windbag to kick them. Expect that tomorrow. But Doughty’s main event is religion, and that “70% ... Christian” figure.

Those convinced by the figure would do well to scroll down the document to Background Notes 3 [Page 15]. The question was “What is your religion, even if you are not currently practising?” [my emphasis] and the later caution reads “Belonging can be interpreted as both loose self-identification and active or formal belonging to a religious group. As such, some people may respond that they have a religious affiliation but not that they belong to a religion”.

Thus when Doughty asserts that people “profess Christianity” – defined as “to affirm faith in, or allegiance to”, he is being blatantly dishonest. Of the 42 million who describe themselves as Christian, just six million are actively practising. That isn’t 70% of the population – it’s a shade under 10%. If those 42 million “professed Christianity” then churches would be full to overflowing. They aren’t.

As so often with the Mail, this is an article that selectively interprets figures to stand up a headline that has always been written. In that it is successful, but as decent journalism it is a miserable failure.

No change there, then.

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