When factchecking goes wrong….

The Times looks at some claim about trade and jobs. And they seem to have fallen foul of a corollary of Muphry\’s Law. Perhaps we might call it Worstall\’s Corollary to Muphry\’s Law: any piece of fact checking will contain an error even more glaring and nonsensical than the original claim being fact checked.

last year Britain exported goods and services worth £3.4bn to the EU, and imported £3.5bn – out of total global trade of £14bn.

Quite where they\’ve got these numbers from I\’m not sure but my best guess is that they\’ve come from here.

But they\’ve managed to use the monthly figures for the trade balance instead of what they claim they\’re using, which is total annual trade.

Just to put this in context. They\’re claiming that total trade is 0.1% of the UK\’s GDP of £1.4 trillion. Whereas it\’s somewhere in the 50-60% range.

And that 3.4 and 3.5 add up to the £6.9 billion which was the total trade deficit in one recent month.

I think we can put this down as a fail, don\’t you?

Although I will admit to a certain joy at quite such a glorious exposition of Worstall\’s Corollary to Muphry\’s Law.

(And yes, there\’s bound to be an error in this post.)

9 comments on “When factchecking goes wrong….

  1. It’s not a decimal point error though, is it? If it was

    last year Britain exported goods and services worth £3.4bn to the EU, and imported £3.5bn – out of total global trade of £14bn.

    would be

    last year Britain exported goods and services worth £34bn to the EU, and imported £35bn – out of total global trade of £140bn

    which is still wrong.

    ———-

    Tim – you mean 1%, not 0.1%!

    Tim adds: See, I told you. Worstall’s Corollary to Muphry’s Law falls foul of Worstall’s Corollary to Muphry’s Law.

  2. Ok fair enough, please ignore my similarly intemperate remark on your own site. You know it’s always useful in this situation with very large numbers to divide by another relevant one and see if it makes sense. In this case do population – so £3.4bn would be imports to the UK per head of £3.4bn/60m = £51. Too low!

    [I’ve probably made a mistake in this comment in line with Tim’s corollary]

  3. “(And yes, there’s bound to be an error in this post.)”

    If there wasn’t, then that statement would be an error of course. So, err…my brain hurts.

  4. FlatEric,

    Yes, as well as what I assume is the deliberate misspelling (it is too consistent across multiple blog posts), Tim has also given us a luvverly example of the Epimenides Paradox (as best seen in the Epistle to Titus.)

  5. Oh – and also a good exposition of Godel’s First Incompleteness Theorem.

    If your language is sufficiently complex to permit self-reference, it is possible to construct a statement which has an indeterminate meaning.

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