Reporting Scotland staff struggle with either understanding simple statistics or with honesty in reporting them


(c) Mad in America

On BBC Reporting Scotland after 6.30pm, last night, we heard:

‘The number of young people in Scotland on anti-depressants has increased by 10% over the last three years. There were similar increases in England and Northern Ireland.’

The increase in England was 15% or 50% higher than that in Scotland. The choice to report the increases over three years was arbitrary and designed to maximise and dramatize the headline figure.

We then heard:

‘The figures show a small rise for under-18’s from 5564 to 5 572.’

This increase of 8 from well over 5 thousand represents an increase of 0.14%, is statistically insignificant, much smaller than ‘small’ and consequently not worthy of reporting or should have been reported as ‘not significantly different’. Further, some context is clearly needed if we are to fully understand the statistics. Most obvious, how many under 18’s are there in Scotland. Official statistics only tell us how many under-15’s there are – 920 000 in 2017, but even this figure would suggest that fewer than 0.6%, fewer than 1 in a hundred, are taking anti-depressants.

Then, and of greater importance here, we heard:

‘In under-12’s, prescribed anti-depressant figures were up from 221 to 252. That’s a 26% rise over 3 years.’

These very small figures by contrast with those for the under-18’s, require, even more, context. How many under-12’s are there in Scotland? Once more, official statistics do not tell us this specifically but, in 2001, there were 670 00 pupils, excluding pre-school, in primary schools.

Even if we take this very conservative figure, 252 represents only 0.037% or fewer than one in every 2 600. So, does this tell us that we have a significant problem or is it to be expected given contemporary practice?

In England, in 2016, 3 876 children aged 7 to 12 and 315 aged 6 or younger were given anti-depressants. That gives a total of 4 191.

So, England has roughly 10 times the population and at least ten times the number of under-12’s (the birth rate is higher) and yet seems to have approaching twice the level of anti-depressant prescription for under-12s.

See this for anti-depressant prescription in the USA in 2017:

0-5 Years              38,534

0-1 Years               6,687
2-3 Years               10,957
4-5 Years               21,299

6-12 Years            574,090

The USA has 59 times the population of Scotland and at least (the birth rate is higher) 59 times the number of under-12’s and yet has more than 2 000 times the level of anti-depressant prescription for under-12’s.

So, Reporting Scotland, have you produced what is effectively a scare story based on incomplete and out-of-context statistics?

Readers, is this another in a long sequence of such reporting on Scotland’s health and health system and, if so, why?






10 thoughts on “Reporting Scotland staff struggle with either understanding simple statistics or with honesty in reporting them

  1. Alasdair Macdonald July 25, 2018 / 9:20 am

    Well done!

    What you have done is, literally, NOT rocket science. It is pretty basic statistics which is done in secondary schools and requires no sophisticated techniques such as tests of significance or correlations. It is simply putting things in context.

    The reports – which were broadcast repeatedly from 6.30am on the radio, too – were not simply news reporting. They were reporting on the findings of an investigation by ‘File of Four’, which is a programme with a fairly respectable investigative track record. In making such an investigative programme – which I have not listened to, but I can catch it on iPlayer – I assume that such basic contextual calculations are made. They would involve the kind of research you have done and then doing the calculations, which could be done on the back of an envelope. If File on Four had done this, then the news staff just had to scoop in the findings and report them in a balanced way.

    With the pressures of 24 hour rolling news, I suspect that sometimes those compiling news bulletins have little time to look too deeply and they search for the BAD datum to create the headline. This could be alleviated by employing more staff, including more editors. While the BBC is always complaining about funding squeezes, there are many of the ‘really high heid yins’ who get obscenely high remuneration. Half of Chris Evans’ or Gary Lineker’s pay would probably pay for 20/30 more staff on the living wage (the REAL one, not George Osborne’s cynical rebranding of the minimum wage.)

    I think that the intention of such misreporting is political and is wilful.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. William Henderson July 25, 2018 / 9:48 am

    As this kind of reporting goes on and on, we can only presume that they are ‘obeying orders’. It cannot be otherwise – but whose orders?

    If we take the advice to ‘follow the money’ it is clear that the NHS, to someone, represents nothing more than a huge flow of public cash which offers an opportunity for rent extraction if it can be brought under private control.

    But how to gain that control – Simple – Demoralise NHS staff, destroy public confidence in the organisation and generate chaotic failure. That done, come to the rescue with a shiny new USA style system which is sold as the only show in town and voila! a cash flow that can be creamed without mercy.

    I’m afraid I’m becoming so, so cynical in my old age.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. Iain MacEchern July 25, 2018 / 10:45 am

    Thought control, it’s the constant drip drip of propaganda and misinformation controlled and directed by the State. All the state has to do is make sure the BBC employees people who show a preference for the Union and are against Scottish independence, then just feed them the information that reinforces their views and they will happily pass it on to the masses. That’s why I no longer pay my annual propaganda fee of £150 to the BBC, and why I no longer watch any of their programmes.

    Liked by 5 people

  4. Brian Powell July 25, 2018 / 4:02 pm

    They can’t get real stories so make them up with the purpose of attacking the SG for their paymasters in Westminster.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Ludo Thierry July 25, 2018 / 4:49 pm

    Given beeb Jockland’s fascination for any delays/cost over-runs with complex infrastructure projects perhaps they might like to trumpet this info from the beeb (UK) politics page? (snippet below):

    London’s Crossrail project is running almost £600m over budget with extra funding required to complete work on the east-west railway, which is due to open in December.

    The project’s budget has been increased from £14.8bn to £15.4bn, rail minister Jo Johnson announced, blaming “cost pressures”.

    Somehow I doubt this info will find it’s way onto the beeb Jockland site – even though the people of Scotland are being asked to pay a share of the Crossrail project – so have a reasonable right to know what is happening to their money. Interesting that the Westminster tory govt managed to put out the info about the cost over-runs on the day the Westminster Parlt left for the Summer Recess!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. sassenach July 26, 2018 / 8:42 am

    If only this kind of dissection of BBC Scotland could be made compulsory reading for all Scots.

    Yes, I can dream!!

    Liked by 1 person

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