Reporter’s Blog

It’s hardly breaking news that the tabloid media knows how to pick on a figure, hold it up to the light, inspect it, then plonk it on the printing presses […]

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By Vicky Ellis

It’s hardly breaking news that the tabloid media knows how to pick on a figure, hold it up to the light, inspect it, then plonk it on the printing presses with a ‘new’ angle and hey presto: a sensational headline story.

But you’d never suspect researchers or government advisers of doing the very same thing.

I see you shaking your head. Why so sceptical? Until recently, I would have scorned your cynicism but recent instances give me the sneaking suspicion you may be onto something.

Take the Committee on Climate Change’s recent crowing announcement that climate change policies will only put a trifling sum onto our bills.

In mid-December, the government advisory board said carbon emission cutting schemes – such as the UK’s carbon budgets – will only increase household bills by £100 over the next nine years. Cue headlines all over the place.

Two weeks earlier, the Renewable Energy Foundation (REF) said in a less widely circulated report that such climate change ‘levies’ could pile an extra £15billion onto consumer costs by 2020.

Dr John Constable, research director at REF rang to draw my attention to the CCC’s figures and how really, they closely mimicked his own group’s conclusion. What was startling was the totally different interpretation.

Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising. Even if you’d had your head stuck in the ground since birth, reverberations of the word ‘spin’ would have worked their way down through the earth to your mud-filled ears.

But when public trust in the media is already so low, you’d expect (or hope) that good old honest researchers could make a better stab at it.

I can see you shaking your head again. It’s hard to blame you.