Ampp3d under “friendly fire” from the National Secular Society
We did a story on Ampp3d this week fact-checking the Daily Mail’s scaremongering nonsense about the number of Muslim children growing up in the UK. The National Secular Society did not like it.
In their story about the number of Muslim children growing up in the UK this week, the Daily Mail took the 2011 census figures, and literally identified the handful of areas where you could say that Muslim kids outnumbers Christian kids, and then made it into a big splash. It is the kind of story that plays right into the narrative of Ukip and their friends.
The data table alongside the text specifically avoided counting any children other than Muslims or Christians, and failed to put the overall context that there are 6 times as many children belonging to Christian families in the UK than their are Muslim families.
I thought Federica’s piece for us was an excellent example of corrective data-journalism, where we were able to show how someone had slanted the figures to make a point they wanted to make, rather than looking at the overall picture.
Not everyone agreed though, and we were criticised on Twitter by the National Secular Society.
Mirror fact checks Daily Mail story but continues to label children by their parents’ religion http://t.co/hTzCBbOesA
— Secularism UK (@NatSecSoc) September 16, 2014
I understand the point they were getting at, and it gave me pause for thought.
In the end I had three points in response:
- This is how ONS collects the data because that is how the question is framed. The graphs would have been pretty dull if we tried to fact-check the Mail by saying “The Mail say there are more Muslim children than Christian children in certain areas, but it doesn’t show the whole picture. Here’s a graph showing ‘All children (assigned to no religion)’”.
- Aside from that, we don’t have an agreed framework for when children are able to declare themselves of a religious faith. The NSS are right, it is ridiculous and arrogant to describe a 1 month old baby as a Muslim or Christian or Jew or whatever. But I think it is equally arrogant and ridiculous to argue that no 14 year old could have made the decision to follow a faith voluntarily. And again, the census data wouldn’t allow us to draw a dividing line anyway.
- This felt like unnecessary friendly fire. One of the main points of our article was that the fastest growing group of children in the UK are those designated as “atheists”. In fact, that was the lead text. It felt profoundly odd, and to be honest, a bit disappointing, to be on the receiving end of critical tweets when we’d taken the time to make that point.
Still, I like to think there’s a special place in hell reserved for whoever is operating their social media account oh hang on.