Will the Telegraph now run a correction after MediaWatch proved it wrong?
Telegraph columnist James Bartholomew has apologised for citing evidence that showed the opposite of what he claimed after a MediaWatch story checked the facts.
Mr Bartholomew, author of the book The Welfare of Nations, wrote yesterday that an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report in 2010 found Britain was the ‘ninth best out of 30 countries’ for secondary school achievement independent of parents’ socio-economic background.
But after MediaWatch checked and found that Britain was actually ninth worst in this respect, the author has apologised and confirmed his ‘Britain’s class ceiling is a myth’ piece for the Telegraph contained this massive error.
Writing under our story, Mr Bartholomew said:
“With regret and embarrassment I have to admit that you are right. On checking I find that you are entirely correct and that Britain is not ranked ‘ninth best out of 30 countries in achieving success for children independently of the parents’ socio-economic status’. Britain is, instead, – as you say – ‘ninth worst’. I apologise for this error.
I took the data from a secondary source which made this error (unless I misunderstood the secondary source). Of course, ideally I should have checked the original report but I had less than a day to research and write the article.”
You can read his full response below (which unfortunately sees him get my name wrong, despite it being in the byline of the story).
MediaWatch would like to thank Mr Bartholomew for admitting his error in a timely fashion, by writing to us on Twitter and our website.
We would however request that the Telegraph run a correction in its print edition and amend its online version of the piece, noting that the correction has been made. The ‘ninth best out of 30’ claim was an important part of the piece and was false and misleading for readers – it stated the exact opposite of what the cited evidence actually showed.
We also hope Mr Bartholomew will be more careful with secondary sources in future, however close his deadlines.
Note: MediaWatch does not accept Mr Bartholomew’s claim that our account of one of his points on welfare was not accurate, (see below). If he had meant to suggest other methods of ‘focus on the underclass’, which he says is partly created by welfare, than the current reforms of Ian Duncan Smith, which he says are ‘helping’, he could have mentioned some in his piece. As it stands, we invite readers to compare the final paragraph of his piece with the second line of ours, and decide whether ours was a fair summary.
With regret and embarrassment I have to admit that you are right. On checking I find that you are entirely correct and that Britain is not ranked ‘ninth best out of 30 countries in achieving success for children independently of the parents’ socio-economic status’. Britain is, instead, – as you say – ‘ninth worst’. I apologise for this error.
I took the data from a secondary source which made this error (unless I misunderstood the secondary source). Of course, ideally I should have checked the original report but I had less than a day to research and write the article.
While I admit I got this fact wrong, I would like to mention a few things to put it in perspective. While Britain was ‘ninth worst’, the chart shows that we nevertheless did better than quite a few countries with which we often compare ourselves including Germany, France, the Netherlands and the USA. The point I was making was that Britain is not, as some like to claim, exceptionally bad in its social mobility. Part of the case is that it is not exceptionally bad in its educational mobility.
The OECD paper which we are both referring to has a variety of measures and it is true that on some of them, Britain is among the less good countries. But on others it is among the better countries or in the middle. I certainly agree that Britain’s record in education should be much better. My book, The Welfare of Nations, has ideas for how this might be achieved based on what is done elsewhere in the world. (Incidentally, I am not responsible for the link in the online version which you say – and I don’t doubt you – is incorrect).
But the main point of my article was that social mobility in Britain is reasonably good, insofar as it can be measured, and it is about average for advanced countries. You have not challenged the supporting data for this.
I would like to correct an error in your blog:
I did not say “the government should focus more on removing people’s welfare”. For anyone who would like to check, the article is here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/edu…
Will you withdraw the assertion?
I do believe our welfare state has been dysfunctional over decades. So too, in different respects, have been the welfare states of many other advanced countries. I wrote The Welfare of Nations with the idea of finding ways to reduce the unintended consequences of some welfare states including social housing where people live in fear, permanent mass unemployment and functional illiteracy. We probably have different ideas about solutions to these problems. But you may agree that it would be good to deal with them.
If you would like to debate these issues , I would be happy to do so.
With kind regards, James Bartholomew
Adam Barnett is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow MediaWatch on Twitter
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