Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Mail thinks one third more is the same as three times more

Recent research from the University of Cambridge revealed babies born at night were very slightly more at risk of death than babies born during the day (9am-5pm).

As NHS Behind the Headlines says:

However, these results must be interpreted in the correct context, as the risk of newborn death was very low in both groups: 4.2 out of 10,000 births in normal working hours, and 5.6 out of 10,000 births out-of-hours.

That is one third more. It is not:

'Three times more' would be 12.6 out of 10,000 - a vast difference to 5.6.

Journalist Sophie Borland gets this right in her article, but the headline writer couldn't tell the difference - either because they didn't understand it's not the same, or because 'three times more likely' sounded more sensationalist.

However, Borland doesn't get everything totally correct. Her first sentence says:

Women who give birth at night or weekends face a higher risk of their baby dying due to hospital staffing shortages, research suggests.

However, as Behind the Headlines points out:

It is misleading to report that the associations may be ‘due to hospital staffing shortages’, as the causes of different death rates have not been examined in this research and any such claims are based on speculation.

(Hat-tip to Alex P)


  1. And (surprise,surprise) the Mail is no longer accepting comments on the article.

  2. Mail stoops to frightening pregnant women. Sick.

  3. Should we (pointlessly) wait for the removal of the headline, a correction and an apology?

    Or perhaps an expose on why education standards are falling in this country due to immigrants?

  4. There's a standard thing told to speech-writers: never use a negative form, because people will just take away the positive thing. E.g. if you say "no tax rises" people's memories will contain "he mentioned tax rises". Time to tell the press-release people this, I fear.

    -- random Firedrake

  5. yakoub - lots of media outlets make a lot of money frightening pregnant women, not just the mail.


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