Daily Mail slammed by MP over use of 'Statistics Guy' coronavirus graph

Harborough MP Neil O'Brien

Harborough MP Neil O'Brien - Credit: UK Parliament

An MP has sent a series of damning tweets condemning a Daily Mail coronavirus graph which questioned official death figures in the UK.

Neil O'Brien, the Conservative Party MP for Harborough, has delivered a scathing attack on the Daily Mail, accusing it of using questionable data sources.

In a long Twitter thread, O'Brien accused the paper of using a graph compiled by a Covid-denier than by "real scientists and clinicians on SAGE".

The graph purported to show that deaths in the UK for this month were no higher than any November in the last five years, which the media outlet had taken from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) and someone by the name of "Statistics Guy".

Disputing the chart, O'Brien said ONS figures showed excess deaths in recent weeks to be "in fact higher than any time in the last five years".

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"Second," the MP and former adviser to Theresa May added, "the source looked very strange. Instead of just 'Office for National Statistics', the source says 'Statistics Guy'.

"'The Statistics Guy' turns out to be a cranky Covid-denial Twitter feed, run by a guy with a cartoon avatar."

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He said the chart accounted for a 3.3% yearly population increase which he intimated was questionable because growth in 2018 had only been 0.54%.

"We can also see the original chart from Statistics Guy on his Twitter (posted 13th November), which is what the Daily Mail has copied exactly. He says he has used 'population growth over the past 5 years to amend the upper and lower record for each week'.

"The highest it's been anytime in the last 5 years was 10164 in 2019. Statistics Guy shows a maximum of 10,861, which appears in the Mail. That's a 6.86% increase.

"If anything we’d expect growth over the last year to be slower because of a near halt to international migration, excess deaths and so on."

He also said it was "quite strange" the graph did to include data from November 17.

"Why am I going on about one wrong graph? Because actually it's not just one graph: in fact, the papers are filled with a torrent of this kind of thing: 'Hey, there’s no real coronavirus problem, we can call just get back to normal'. Sadly, it's just not true," he shared.

"While everything should be questioned (that's what science is), some of the papers need to apply the same standards to covid-denial content from random people with cartoon avatars that they do to the real scientists and clinicians on SAGE.

"The vaccine is coming soon, life will get back to normal. But in the meantime, we need to protect people's lives and health through a difficult winter."

Foreign reporter for The Economist Daniel Knowles posted: "Amazing thread. I... should not be shocked at the standard of British tabloid journalism, but that the Mail used 'Statistics Guy' on Twitter as a source instead of the ONS, is just wild."

Andy Williams added: "When willful misinterpretation of data becomes straight-up misinformation - excellent thread."

Sarah Gordon quipped: "General rule, take anything the Daily Mail say with a pinch of salt."

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