Zombie stats: When inaccurate numbers refuse to die
- 16 Jan 2012, 16:00
- Christian Hunt
CC vhmh - flickr
It's the dodgy energy stat that just won't go away - the
suggestion that 'green charges' make up 20% of your energy
It's unsubstantiated. It's at odds with the most recent figures
from industry regulator Ofgem, which
put the proportion of an average bill caused by 'social and
environmental costs' at 7%. And both the Daily Mail and the
Mail on Sunday have published corrections to the figure after
intervention from the Press Complaints Commission.
But none of this has stopped the Mail on Sunday using it, again,
in an opinion piece headlined "
Reveal this 'green tax' on fuel bills'". In yesterday's paper
the editor of the Financial Mail
Lisa Buckingham wrote that:
"Profit margins [for energy companies]
average about seven percent over the economic cycle - not rock
bottom not up there with the banks either.
And about 20 percent of bills are nothing to do with them. They
reflect the barrage of Government-mandated 'green' charges'"
Bear in mind that this is in a piece which argues for more
transparency over green costs. Getting the proportion of the bill
that comes from Government measures right should be a basic first
Both the Mail and the Mail on Sunday have previously
published (separate) corrections withdrawing the figure - in
print and online. The original articles were amended online, and,
we had been told, annotated in the Mail's databases to make sure
that the figure wouldn't be re-used.
It obviously didn't work. So what does it take to get rid of an
inaccurate and unsubstantiated stat?
Where did the figure come from?
The 20% figure first appeared as a Mail front page
headline back in June, which read "Hidden green tax in fuel
bills: how £200 stealth charge is slipped onto your gas an
It came from a quote by Dr Benny Peiser, director of the climate
skeptic think-tank the
Global Warming Policy Foundation. He suggested that green
energy measures are adding 15-20 percent (or up to £200) to
household energy bills. The Mail repeated the claim in numerous
articles and the figure was also cited by other newspapers
Sunday Telegraph and the Express).
Noticing that it was substantially higher than other estimates,
and wasn't referenced, we made a PCC complaint about the figure. In
September a correction
appeared in the Mail which recognised that (at the time) "According
to Ofgem, the correct figure for environmental costs is currently
no more than 9%" - or about £80-90.
Just a few days after the Mail's correction, the Mail on Sunday
repeated the same claim - presumably demonstrating that they
don't pay much attention to the corrections process.
We brought it to the attention of the PCC and the paper. You would
hope that by this point it would be straightforward to get the Mail
to deal with the matter promptly, but actually, while they were
contemplating the matter, the
Mail on Sunday used the £200 figure again.
Finally, in November the MoS published
a second correction to both articles. And that was the last we
saw of the 20% figure, until it reappeared yesterday.
We should point out that since
and the Climate
Change Committee have all produced reports summarising their
research on energy bill costs, the debate around energy bills seems
to have been getting marginally more accurate and sensible -
in the Mail.
Hence it's a shame that this has happened again. This incident
also doesn't say much for the power and impact of the Press
Complaints Commission, given that a newspaper can repeatedly
publish information which it knows to be misleading after repeated
Well, hopefully this is what the Leveson inquiry is for...