back to article How the government uses dirty data to legislate morality

When it comes to sex and censorship, Government's insistence that laws are "evidence-based" is little more than hot air. The statistics quoted in support of any given case are frequently misleading, partial, and - according to one expert in this field - subject to highly unethical collusion of interest between government and …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    Did the earth move for you?

    "Pride of place, however, goes to the Home Office Committee charged with reviewing Sexual Offences back in 2000. In their report, "Setting the Boundaries" (pdf), they expressed surprise that necrophilia wasn’t actually a crime. They could find "no firm evidence of the nature or the extent of the problem," but, since they thought most people would expect it to be illegal anyway, had no problems with proposing its criminalisation."

    Excellent - although how dead do you have to be? What if someone dies in the act - is their partner automatically engaging in necrophilia and therefore to put put on public show as a paedophile ('cos the Sun readers know of "me" and paedophiles, even paediatricians aren't safe)

  2. kissingthecarpet

    Theres only one test

    government policy has to pass - The Sun/Daily Mail test.

    Nothing else really matters.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Great Article!

    That's a great article! (And I don't just mean that it takes up six pages.)

  4. Steven Jones

    Excellent Journalism.

    It's a delight to come across some decent journalism. Sadly it's a rare thing these days, but I really welcome somebody taking along, hard view at what passes for policy making in this country. Much of what comes out from politicians and journalists (plus not a few comedians) is pre-digested views based on dubious research of the worst order.

    Whilst on the subject of ridiculous use of statistics in the name of fashionable policies, one might want to look at what the FSA and Ofcom are up to on food and dietary standards. Recently Chris Hoy has been lambasted by some self-appointed outfit called "The Food Commission" as one of a number of sportsman promoting what they call "junk food". His crime? Well he's been putting his name to what the FSA and Food Commission define as a "high sugar" foods in the shape of Kellogs Bran Flakes. This story was picked up by Ben Goldacre's usually excellent Bad Science blog (in the microblogs) where he joined in the condemnation.

    Well the facts are these - the FSA defines any food as "high sugar" if it contains more than 15gm of Sugar per 100gm in weight. Ofcom use this to ban the advertising of so-called "junk foods" on children's TV (not that there is much of that, partly because there's not much left to advertise). The FSA use these percentage figures for various evil ingredients (in their view) without any consideration to the actual amount eaten. So Marmite is really bad for the salt contents - but then who eats 100gm at a go. For that matter who eats 100gm of dry Bran Flakes? According to Kellogs, a portion of Branflakes is 30gm (which would be about 7gm of sugar - even if the average portion is a bit bigger, then actual amount isn't that high). Of course the percentage of sugar is even lower when the milk is taken into account (albeit he total amount is a bit higher).

    Now compare this with orange juice. That passed the "high sugar" tests as it is only about 12% sugars. However, if we take an average (not very large) portion of orange juice as 200gm then that's about 24gm of sugar from that source, or over three times that from a portion of bran flakes.

    The FSA has been promoting it's ridiculously simplistic "traffic light" labeling system on the basis that it is "clear". However, it is technically vastly inferior to the GDA system - the latter actually takes into account portion sizes, it allows you to plan a diet (there are no bad foods - just bad diets) and allows you to take into account the various ingredients that go to make up a meal (your bran-flakes and orange juice breakfast is high in sugar; but primarily due to the "green light" orange juice). But no, we have to go along with this infantilised FSA traffic light scheme that is fundamentally based on the idea that people are children.

    Of course, the real thing the health food lobby don't want people to realise is just what huge levels of uncertainty there are in things like "safe drinking limits" - essentially much of the science is contradictory and changing. Take the fiasco of eggs being blamed for high cholesterol. None of this stops politicians and pressure groups acting as if it is certain.

    Incidentally, for those (including the BBC) that think that "natural" sugar in foods) including honey) is fine and added sugar is "bad" then think again. The body doesn't much care - essentially all carbohydrates get broken down into sugars before they are absorbed. It's just that dissolved sugar is more immediately available, and the actual differences between glucose, sucrose, fructose, lactose and so on as far as the effect on the body are concerned are not that important (produce a fruit smoothy or orange juice and you've already made the sugar more readily available by breaking up the plant cellular structure). Also, contrary to much of what is said, the "evidence" that sugar gives you type II diabetes is minimal (being fat, not taking exercise does - and sugar will help rot the teeth). So keep the weight down, and make sure you eat all the nutrients, but don't think there is some magic level of sugars that will keep you healthy.

    Nb. I emailed Ben Goldacre about the inadvisability of just quoting pre-digested (pun unintended) stories like the one he picked up vilifying Chris Hoy, but he too has a habit of ignoring things which don't suit his thinking (which also has blind spots). He recently posted another one about the PRS spat with YouTube/Google where he characterised it as "good news for independent musicians" as the commercial music industry was committing suicide (equating the PRS with record companies - far, far from the case). One of his blind spots is dislike for big companies (especially pharmaceutical ones).

  5. alain williams Silver badge

    Domestic violence

    There is a similar skewing of statistics to promote the belief that domestic violence is all about men hitting women. The truth is very different - about 50/50 each sex on the other. See:

  6. Ian
    IT Angle

    If you appear really busy, maybe no one will notice you are completely clueless.

    The governments eagerness to introduce as much legislation as possible and criminalise just about everything the Daily Mail has ever worried an old lady about is well demonstrated here: (from the Telegraph) and here: (from the Independent).

    Maybe they figure if they pass enough laws, some of them are bound to be right. Maybe it makes them feel important. Maybe they just want to appear busy. I wish they'd stop and maybe actually take notice of little things like facts and real scientific evidence (or even public opinion) before deciding what we can and can't do. I guess that's to much to ask.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The government frequently insist on "evidence-based" policy...

    ...or rather, they claim to.

    They either ask an expert and then ignore anything that disagrees with the Daily Mail headline they're chasing, or they get a stooge in to provide them with what they want to hear (e.g. Tanya Byron) rather than anything with real evidence behind it.

    On the subject of Stefan Pakeerah's death, Manhunt was rated 18, so neither the victim (14) or the killer (17) should have had access to it. Besides, it was the victim who owned the game, not his killer.

    As usual though, politicians ignore the facts to suit their own agenda.

  8. Alfazed

    Honestly !

    So what's new under the sun ?

    Govingmints have always spun the data to suit their motives, 1984 being a good illustration of the possibilities on the horizon.

    It's good to see that someone still has the time to deviate from the standard rule of bullshit and relate the current musings and wanderings of our Overlords tiny but ever so corrupt minds.

    Thankx for such an entertaining article.

    The IT angle being possibly CODS missing maxim, "Dirty Data Breads Dirty Little Minds".

  9. SteveMD
    Thumb Up

    Excellent piece

    A well researched, clear and concise representation of the facts. Exactly the opposite of the kind of crap we usually get from the majority of the media. Unfortunately, we know from experience that merely pointing out that the evidence is utterly useless does not stop politicians, and especially lobby groups, from quoting it as fact again and again.

    It really is time that we had a popular call for rationalism, too often we see a cause which politicians champion first and then, when questioned, "find" evidence to back their point of view. The worst thing about such political tactics is that the laws brought in often cause more harm than if nothing was done.

    I can only think that those who push through these laws must be operating on some kind of "faith", the word according to Dworkin or some-such nonsense. How else could they deny rationality to bring in laws that harm and still sleep at night?

  10. Juan Inamillion
    Thumb Up

    Well done..

    Considering the breadth of the subject that was a very well laid out concise primer into the problems in obtaining sensible, accurate data from Joe Public.

    "Question the questions' I always say...

  11. Trevor Pott Gold badge
    Dead Vulture

    Great article.

    A wonderful commentary with some very specific examples. Please visit Canada, do a bunch of research here into the flaws in our system, and produce something similar so I can cover our MPs' walls with it.

    On another note: wouldn't necrophilia qualify as "interfering with human remains?" My understanding is that is a crime.

    RIP REG because you've named and shamed too many people with this one...

  12. michael

    my spurious research clame

    100% of pepol who use linux have no life

    what have as much right to publish research as anyone else.

  13. Darling Petunia


    Politicians and clerics have always used morality as the tool to control masses. Rather than deal with tangible problems, they inflate the monsters that lurk in miniscule darkened corners. The masses, judgement limited by corrupted 'truth', sway as orchestrated, OR realize the fraud and revolt. I hope it's the latter.

  14. Dave

    Poor Arguments

    "...that the difference lies in whether someone is "born that way” or makes a conscious choice"

    Until someone can come up with a religious gene that determines which, if any, deity to worship, surely religion is a conscious choice made by most people. OK, so the vast majority are brainwashed into it by their parents, but some make a decision as an adult to adopt a particular religion based on their own personal experiences.

    Perhaps BDSM needs to get itself declared as a religion and demand equal protection.

  15. Jon Thompson

    Why am I not surprised by this?

    This is a government with a record of asking for evidence upon which to base its decisions, then ignoring it.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up


    I gave it a top rating of orgasmic, I'm not sure if this is appropriate given the content of the article! A good article and one that makes you think.

  17. chris swain
    Black Helicopters

    Shock! Horror! The Government tell porkies!

    The powers that be are scared of the people because ultimately they rely on the people for their right to govern. The greatest tool to control a population is fear. The media collude (largely unwittingly, I suspect) in the creation of a climate of fear amongst the population.

    Critical thinking is a dying art amongst the majority in the soundbite age and is probably not on the national curriculum so no one really questions whatever old pap the papers feed them.

    No particular political flavour is to blame, rather it is the very nature of professional politicians to fear and mistrust the people and to consequently try to increase their control over the people. Anyone who is prepared to make the necessary moral compromises required to become a politician probably isn't fit to hold office.

    Welcome to the Kingdom of Fear, now shut up and do as you're told.

    (P.S. Any more of these kind of stories and I'm taking El Reg off my google homepage, I don't want to be reminded of how things are, I just want funny stories with Playmobil people!)

  18. david wilson

    I can't help wondering...

    What would the situation be if the other party was in government?

    Presumably there'd still be basically the same media appetite for 'blame porn/videogame' stories, there'd still be the same media appetite for 'huge amount of sex trafficing' stories, so at least some of the benefits of implementing bans would be there, in terms of potential approval of an underinformed or misinformed public.

  19. Andy Enderby
    Thumb Down

    it was ever thus.....

    In recent times alone, we have the ID card, which wacki Jaqui and friends tells us enjoys near total support, the Iraqi involvement in 9/11 + WMD/dodgy dossier, and now this. As usual, if the facts don't reflect the "reality" our wonderful leaders want to punt on any given day, they simply change them for "facts" that do.

    Thumbs down, not for the article but for our scumbag politicians.

  20. John Savard Silver badge

    Poll Results

    Ah, yes. If I believe that it is justified for a man to use force against his wife because he has discovered she is heading out to blow herself up on the London Underground, taking dozens of passengers with her, this clearly means I am tolerant of wife-beating. This sort of tactic needs to be recognized for what it is, and your article does a service in that regard.

  21. Mark
    Thumb Down

    Not another law

    I fail to see why the government has this obsession with drafting new laws to cover specific offences, when there are plenty of current statutes to cover the situation.

    The author raises the issue of necrophilia; it need not be a crime in itself as there are any number of offences relating to grave robbery, failing to notify authorities of dead bodies, not to mention the old favourite health and safety regulations which would be used without stretching them too far.

    The law on sexual conduct should be drastically simplified to the point where it simply says that all consensual sexual relationships which do not cause any long term harm to those involved is non of the business of the state. It could solve prostitution by only regulating matters which it should be involved in i.e. the health and safety of those involved and ensuring the government taxes the income.

    Similarly, it could avoid dithering about how dangerous drugs are by decriminalising and taxing them according to risk, making them a purely medical matter, and ensuring problems with dirty needles, purity of supply etc are solved by having dispensation from pharmacists.

    The extreme porn law and cartoon sex law is another prime example of the governments desire to interfere in matters which again should be none of its business. Poor Mr Timney is soon not going to be able to charge anything at all to expenses when his wife is hard at work at the Home Office, for fear of criminal charges.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Rapid Evidence Assessment farce

    The Rapid Evidence Assessment (REA) by Itzin, Taket and Kelly is a complete farce!

    The biggest problem is that only a handful of the studies referred to involve *any* Extreme Pornographic Material. At most, they may include rape, gang rape, coercion, dominance, sadomasochism, bondage, being held or tied down, verbal pressure/threats, pain, juvenile, whipping, spanking and beating which are definitively *not* EP. Torture and mutilation generally are not EP either, nor "slasher films" aren't EP either (they are a "horror" genre).

    Presumably the complete dearth of academic studies of EP suggests it is not, in itself considered to be a significant factor. The incidence of EP is swamped by regular BDSM, spanking and hardcore.

    The second obvious problem (mentioned in the article) is the inclusion of offender studies. Offenders constitute a tiny minority of the EP user population, and extrapolating data from offenders to the non-offending majority is obviously nuts.

    The researchers in the MOJ study are really abusing the EP contract to research their own private interests in Violent Pornography, offender behaviour and statistical correlations, not EP and causality.

    All of the nine people acknowledged in the report were women. There seems to have been *no* input by people who know most about the topic (producers and users). Input from these experts could have prevented the researchers from the blunders and confusion in this report. The MOJ should have required at least one of the investigators be a general statistician (outside the field of health and criminology) to prevent the abysmal abuse of stats in the paper.

    Overall, it's just another case of policy-based evidence-making.

  23. Anonymous Coward

    Crime depends on a perception of a criminal?!?!?!?!?

    "But, as a crime, whether rape takes place or not depends on the perception of the perpetrator - whether or not he had reasonable cause to believe that consent was present."

    Sorry, does it mean that if I don't think/know it is a crime to steal, I can come and pick up your computer and everything else I like?

    Or if somebody believes that wearing short skirt or tight t-short (both men and women) means a sign of attraction, is it OK for that person immediately to try to use that opportunity and some "accidental" no and physical resistance or even stillness as a sign of love?!?!?!?

    Incredible that even today something like this is still published!! Words can't be used to describe what you wrote and The Register published!

  24. Jonathan McColl

    Not just sex ...

    We got the Dangerous Dogs Acts, where the evidence seemed to have been based on headlines and the effect has been to proclaim as 'dangerous' any loose dog that makes a loose human nervous. It has not stopped more such headlines.

    Whatever happened to that special law against stealing mobile phones? It came in because of a rash of such events, and 'a rash' can only be defined as 'a matched set of newspaper stories over a short period.' There's our evidence system.

    We now have a special event-set called Knife Crime, with victims and dangerous people and amnesties and so on, and in due course we'll have a special law about it.

    Best and simplest law is probably just a nice general one against harming anyone. Evidence of the harm by fist or knife or baseball bat or penis or car or newspaper headline or whatever will be used by one side and evidence of consent or age or alibi or whatever will be used by the other.

    A few age limits are useful to define statutory rape or driving age. Do bills include references to the research that led to them being prepared? Publications insist on peer reviews, do the bills?

    Life is so much simpler in my imaginary world.

  25. Graham Marsden
    Thumb Up

    Another excellent article from John Oz!

    I was a member of the Backlash campaign against the so-called Extreme Pornography laws practically since its instigation, so many of the references above are familiar to me, yet even I have hardly seen a more comprehensive debunking of the Government's "evidence" for legislating against what we can read or see or do.

    A link to this article is going straight to my MP!

    You can do the same via

  26. Zorklunn

    How shocking!

    You can't be serious? People are using emotionally charged issues to further their personal power? I'm absolutely shocked!

  27. Anonymous Coward

    Good read

    A very good read that, but....

    .....they're going to ban cartoon porn!!! Won't anyone think of the children.

  28. Raymond Cranfill

    ... Condemned to Repeat It ...

    How many times in history must a democratic society loose its rights before vigilance becomes the rule and not the exception. Augustus turned the Roman Republic into an Empire by preserving the FORMS of republicanism whilst aggregating the real power to himself. Hitler and the Nazis got themselves legitimately elected under the Weimar Republic and then dismantled, with full societal support, the underpinnings of german democracy within two years of taking office. One wonders even whether George W. Bush would have voluntarily given up power in 2008 if he had had a sufficient number of born again generals willing to keep him in office.

    This is what disturbs me so much about the increasing levels of governmental surveillance in both the U.S, and the U.K. The supposed benignity of schemes like Carnivore, Total Information Awareness, and the british governments wish to "break moral laws" in the name of public safety depends entirely on the trust worthiness of the government and the power groups that support it. What would happen to all of this data on the "innocent" if some government came to power with more sinister agendas? My God, can one imagine how the Watergate affair might have been resolved if the Nixon White House had access to Total Information Awareness? In fact, how would a legitimate resistance group ever expect to be able to overturn a corrupt government equipped with such omniscience?

    Another aspect of the loss privacy that concerns me is the relatively lazy and unthinking attitude towards the value or importance of preserving privacy exhibited by today's teen-, twenty-, and thirty-somethings. Kids use social networking sites to post virtually every aspect of their life on line, names, addresses, birthdates, social security numbers routinely appear on personal web pages. Individuals routinely consent to web sites that collect any and all manner of one's on line activities, web site visits, purchases, etc. in order to more narrowly (and supposedly successfully) target advertising. Even sexually explicit texting, including MMS naughty pics, are routinely circulated by teens with little expression of the concept of personal modesty. All of this plays right into the hands of governmental bureaucrats, intelligence and military officers and local police who are salivating at the prospect of being able to stockpile every thought, secret, or action taken by its citizens, whether innocent or not. Tell me, what will prevent a modern day Augustus from hoodwinking once again, but this time with consequences so far reaching that we have essentially no chance of resisting? If you think this is all far fetched, I invite you to to talk with any living German who was at least a teenager in the 1930's to discover just how easily democracy can be rapidly and effectively perverted.

  29. John Smith Gold badge
    Thumb Down

    I wonder what would happen

    If they simply stated "We want to make some laws and we don't care if there is any evidence that they will prevent harm but we're in charge and that's all that matters."

    Or IOW

    Stuff the evidence.

    That is essentially what this government is doing, is it not?

  30. Anonymous Coward

    laws ?? theres only a few real laws ..

    all you have to remember is that what most people call laws arn't they are statutes..

    the only laws we should follow is common law setup way back around the 1100's

    it cover's most things that really count ...

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    This shall now be my default "just read this" whenever someone starts rambling about these kinds of things. It's got everything we already know and everything that other people should know in a nice format so we can all save ourselves some time trying to explain it.

  32. Murray Pearson

    The effect is not restricted to sexuality

    You raise many valid points about biased and blinkered statistics dictating public "justice" policy, which results in the vilification of people not engaged in dangerous activities.

    This effect is by no means restricted to pornography (which I recognize is the subject of this particular article). There is another, similar, and equally widespread bias against men when domestic violence is discovered. In essence, when police are called to domestic disturbances, almost invariably the man is removed — even when he is the victim, not the perpetrator. After that, there is basically no way for a male victim to receive police protection. This continues into the family law courts, where the violent perpetrator is typically given custody of the children; she may claim nonexistent child support arrears to cause her victim to be harassed and criminalized without recourse; the victim may, in fact NEVER have an opportunity to testify about their situation or treatment.

    I am well aware of this phenomenon, as I was homicidally assaulted by my ex-wife in August 1999 after two previous assaults. All three times I was removed, the third time despite the fact my neck was ringed with bruises from when she strangled me in front of our daughter. I have not been allowed to press charges — ever. I have never seen a judge — ever. I have had no contact whatsoever with my two daughters since August 2005. My ex has committed perjury, fraud, contempt of court and physical and emotional child abuse: none of this matters. I have permanent physical health issues arising from this, and was recently told the only reason I am not appropriate for a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder is because the trauma continues unabated to this day with no prospect of stopping. I was dragged to the hospital a week ago because I was suicidal; of course, they just imprisoned me until I promised I wouldn't kill myself, while doing nothing to remedy the actual problem.

    And they wonder how the cycle of abuse continues from generation to generation? How 'bout because THEY ENSURE IT DOES WITH ALL OF THE RESOURCES AVAILABLE TO THEM?

    Statistics Canada has reported that, in the general population, 7% of women and 6% of men will experience domestic battery. And yet, an Canada, there exists 3,200 battered women's shelters and two battered men's shelters. 85% of convicted domestic violence perpetrators are male. And, here in Quebec, the suicide rate is 80% male. All coincidence? You decide.

    The skull and crossbones: because this experience should have killed me seven times over by now. I cannot explain the fact I have a pulse today.

  33. Stuart Van Onselen

    Echo chamber

    I am intrigued by the oft-proposed (at least here in The Register Comments) explanation for your govt's actions: That it is not (just) prudery, populism and the usual moralistic grand-standing which lies at the heart of the problem of (especially) sex- and drug-related mal-administration of the law.

    It is also the fear in national politicians' hearts that their usefulness has been supplanted by the European Union's over-arching legislation. That since broad policy is set in Brussels, not London, people might question either (a) how democratic this "government once-removed" is, or (b) if all the work is being done in Brussels, just why so many politicians are needed in Blighty. Thus, an endless stream of pseudo-populist legislation is produced, just to show that "local" (i.e. national rather than inter-national) government still has a purpose (and that its members deserve their high salaries.)

    I have absolutely no evidence to back up this assertion. I don't even live on the same continent, so I don't have first-hand knowledge of the problem. And my second-hand opinions are derived from the scribblings of a skewed, self-selected sample of people (a small proportion of The Register commentors, which is in turn a small proportion of The Register readers, who are in turn only a small proportion of the British electorate.)

    In fact, I can't even state categorically that there is a "problem" in the first place.

    So I guess I in fact know enough to produce legislation on the subject, no? :-^

  34. Bug

    Stop the presses!

    Headline news - politicians do nothing but lie, spin, and pay others to do it for them.

    It is so endemic I don't think any of them understand the concept of truth and so actually believe themselves.

  35. RW

    A triple-barreled comment

    About Kinsey: those interested in knowing more about the man are directed to Samuel Steward's two autobiographical books, "Chapters from an Autobiography" and "Bad Boys and Tough Tattoos" for a very personal reminiscence.

    About nature vs. nurture: I have observed very young children (ie a month or two old) displaying behavior that shows what kind of an adult personality they will have. More and more, I think the way we all behave is mostly determined by nature, and very little by nurture. This includes a taste for bdsm and other subterranean delights.

    About rape conviction rates: Thirty-eight percent of 1,200 is 456. Five-point-five percent of 12,000 is 660. The number of convictions for rape has in fact gone up a little. The important statistic is the apparent 10-fold increase in complaints about rape, but given NuLabour's blatant pro-female, anti-male bias (Cue the radical feminist line "all intercourse is rape," quite likely swallowed hook, line, and sinker by Mrs. Timney and her sidekicks.) it's inescapable that at least part of the increase in reports of rape is due to fake complaints encouraged by such nonsense: revenge, morning-after regrets, implantation of false memories, God knows what else. But rape has not become ten times more common.

    When Tony B. Liar was complaining that rape conviction rates were so low, he was saying, in essence, that the rule of law and evidence should be overturned. He wasn't at all interested in whether the accused were innocent or guilty. All he wanted was another statistic to pull out of his hat on demand, and if innocent people suffered, well too bad for them. This, by the way, is a suitable response to the "nothing to hide, nothing to fear" nonsense spouted by advocates of the British People's Police State.

    Enough before I bore or enrage our Divine Moderatrix.

  36. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Very Good

    Nice article John. This is exactly what I've been people for ages as it's something not exclusive to the policy making. It happens here in the good old US of A quite often on the local, state, and federal level. The problem being that policy makers now and always will have a vested interest in skewed polls and "research" to support what ever legislation they are currently pushing. it is one of the fundamental reasons why lobby groups here in the states hold such political sway. They either perform or have ties to research and numbers that support what ever policy the politicians in their pockets are pushing through.

    In the end though I can sum up the whole mess with a statement that is as true now as when it was coined. "Figures don't lie, but liars figure". Making the results fit the conclusion you want is one of the oldest games in politics and unfortunately it's not going to change any time soon. All we can do is be aware and do what we can to mitigate it. Articles like this are a great start.

  37. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ban Bread

    ... 99% of people commiting a crime have consumed bread products in the 24 hours before - surely we should ban bread?

    ... and 99% of the population can't discern a good statistic from a meaningless one

  38. Oz

    Manhunt causes murder?

    "A mention too to Keith Vaz, MP, who continued to claim that the killers of British schoolboy Stefan Pakeerah had been influenced by the video game Manhunt, despite police evidence that they had probably never seen it."

    To be fair, it wasn't Keith Vaz who said this, but the parents of the lad concerned, and Keith Vaz just spouted this to all and sundry, as you might expect of an MP. Disappointing, this is detailed in the link you provide in your article!

  39. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Researcher Ian Paisley says Catholics are satan

    You missed the Meta research trick. This is where a researcher is chosen with a known viewpoint to meta 'research' the studies and come to a conclusion. Meta researching, is simply reading reports that pre-exist and selecting extracts from those reports as evidence.

    i.e. to select the subset of research that supports their known existing viewpoint, and present that as the definitive set of studies on the matter.

    If you wanted to prove Catholics are all devil worshippers, you might choose Dr Ian Paisley, to meta-research religion reports and no doubt he would be able to assemble you such a report for you. :)

    Are they all devil worshippers? Nah. But by selecting him, I get a known viewpoint, and by ordering a meta study, I give him the full range of wacky papers on religion to choose from. It's then very easy for him to select the few sections from a few reports that back his viewpoint.

    Since he is not doing any research, he does not have to match any double-blind criteria, and also since he selects the quotes, he can mix papers of dubious quality with high quality ones, as though they have the same weight.

    As Jacqui Smith herself said "How far would I go to protect Britains from devil workshippers? Quite a long way as it happens!", OK I might have paraphrased that a little. But the point is clear, if a scheming politician wants a report that backs their pre-existing viewpoint, it's a lot easier if a meta-report is done, because that is a simply all the available data filtered through the researchers own bias.

  40. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Sexual Diversity

    (Sorry for the length of this comment, but I have a lot to say on one particular issue in the article.)

    Does Trevor Phillips believe that paedophiles have more rights than fully consenting BDSM kinksters?

    "Clair Lewis, National Convenor for CAAN, asked the EHRC why they view homosexuality as an orientation – but not, say, sado-masochism. For the EHRC, Director of Public Policy, Andrea Murray, argues that the EHRC is limited to what the law allows it to consider, and that by definition, “orientation” excludes bdsm: CAAN remain unconvinced and have indicated that they consider this to be ducking the question, that the only answer they have received to date is a hint from their Chair, Trevor Phillips that the difference lies in whether someone is "born that way” or makes a conscious choice."

    Whether people are born BDSM-flavoured, or make a "conscious choice", doesn't change the fact that there's more to sexual diversity than that one dimension of straight-bi-lesbian/gay "orientation". (This is the point of the ice-cream flavours metaphor, after all. Vanilla is just one of many flavours, and there's always stuff like Neapolitan as well.) Sexual diversity isn't one-dimensional, but multi-dimensional. So even if the EHRC insist that BDSM doesn't count as an "orientation", it's still a part of sexual diversity. The EHRC aren't going to resolve this just by playing games with labels. It sounds like they're being as bigoted as the government.

    But does the EHRC really take the view that someone has to be "born that way" in order to be protected from discrimination?

    Just this evening, as I walked home, someone called me "Jesus" because of my long hair and beard. This happens from time to time. It's discrimination against me on the basis of my appearance. But was I "born that way"? Or is it a "conscious choice"? I am a man. I naturally grow hair, both on my head and on my face. And without intervention (shaving or hair-cuts), it naturally grows long. And I choose to let it grow. "Born that way"? Or "conscious choice"? (David Bowie was once long-haired.)

    And what about bisexuality? If someone is bisexual, they might have a choice in whether or not to live as bisexual, or to live as if they're straight. What does the EHRC say then? Are such people "born that way" in that they are born with the ability to choose whether or not to bat for both teams? Or is it a "conscious choice" because they get to choose which team to bat for? (David Bowie was once bisexual.)

    And what of women who make a "conscious choice" to become pregnant? Should they not be entitled to protection against employers who would sack them for it? Or since it was a "conscious choice"...?

    As for BDSM, even if it is a "conscious choice" of whether to be of some kind of BDSM flavour or vanilla instead, is everyone "born that way"? Or are only some people born with that ability to choose what flavour to be? Is the EHRC going to deal with this in a way consistent with planned pregnancy, bisexuality and long-haired beardiness?

    Returning to my question at the start of this comment, what about paedophiles? I gather that at least some paedophiles are "born that way". I don't know if that's true, but I would have thought that those able to make a "conscious choice" would almost always choose not to be paedophiles, since paedophiles are often regarded as the utter scum of the earth. If there are paedophiles who are "born that way", do Trevor Phillips and the EHRC believe that natural born paedophiles have more right to live as paedophiles than "conscious choice" BDSM kinksters have to engage in consensual activity between freely consenting adults?

    Of course, there is a difference between someone being a paedophile (sexually attracted to children), and someone choosing to sexually abuse children. One might be "born that way" - a natural born paedophile - but it doesn't mean that they would have the right to make a "conscious choice" to sexually abuse children.

    Similarly, there is a difference between being born lesbian or gay, and making a "conscious choice" to have consensual sex with people of the same sex. What's the difference between this and the case with paedophiles and sexual abuse of children? Obviously, it's a matter of consent: adults can consent, children can't. It's not a matter of whether someone's "born that way" or making a "conscious choice".

    Trevor Phillips and the EHRC are wrong to think that it comes down to whether someone's "born that way" or makes a "conscious choice". That approach simply doesn't work. Instead, as should be clear from the comparison of paedophilia with homosexuality, it's a matter of consent. Those who consent to participate in BDSM are not like children being sexually abused or their abusers, but are the same as adults generally who consent to have consensual sex with other adults. It's just that there are more flavours than just vanilla. (And don't forget that straight vanilla sex is rape when it's without consent.)

    I am not lesbian/gay or bisexual. I am straight. I am not into BDSM. I'm vanilla. I'm white, able-bodied, male, etc. Yet I can understand this stuff without much difficulty. If I can understand this stuff, then so can Trevor Phillips and the EHRC. They have no excuse for getting this wrong. They need to open their minds, listen to CAAN, and reconsider their attitudes - just as they expect other ignorant, prejudiced people to.

  41. P. Lee Silver badge

    The failure of Rationality

    I have to laugh a little at the "extreme porn" legislation. Could there be anything more blatantly manipulative than that title? Oppose this law will you? All in favour of extremism please stand up! Ok, now all you MPs out there who want to oppose this legislation, please reveal the sordid details of your porn obsessions!

    The government has swapped activity for usefulness as a metric of what it thinks people will vote for. They'll pick on an issue which is emotive but only actually affects a few people (so the fight will be one-sided), work out the popular view and push through legislation to "deal with it." It has nothing to do with morality and everything to do with rational pragmatism - pushing an agenda, any agenda, which they think they can "win." Whether its necrophilia, foxhunting or a "war on terror" , its all just fuel for the administrative fire.

    In an effort to make myself premier flame-bait and increase the page impressions for the benefit of El Reg, it would like to depart from what is probably going to be the consensus. Usually the introduction of morality into politics is seen as an attack on rationalism. I would suggest that it isn't. What we have is politicians making very rational decisions about which policies they should present and pursue. Why would you pick an issue where the side you oppose might contain a large number of voters when you can, instead, pick and frame your opposition as extremists and tiny unsupportable minorities?

    The problem with rationalism is that the rational behaviour for a politician (attempting to pick vote winners) leads to incoherent overall policy. Thus much time is spent protecting foxes in England from one particular type of death, whereas humans in Iraq are opened up to all sorts of lethal and non-lethal abuse (not a vote-winner now, but it was thought to be so at the beginning).

    Likewise, rationalism for newspapers involves publishing shock-horror-think-of-the-children stories because that is what sells newspapers. It feeds off the self-righteousness of the electorate and directly affects the rational behaviour of politicians. Sex also sells, so rational corporations publish both conservative and pornographic papers in the pursuit of profit, with no hint of embarrassment that decrying its own behavour might be considered irrational.

    What we need is rational morality both in government and society in general. Pragmatism (evidence/results-based action) leads to surprisingly incoherent policy. We need less "evidence-based" policy and more morally principled behaviour. This does not mean more legislation of morality, but it does mean that we need people with coherent moral principles framing coherent legislation. It needs some honesty and explanation. We seem to have almost totally lost the idea of tolerance. Tolerance is not celebratory permissiveness or the acceptance of values which contradict your own, it is allowing people to behave differently from your own standards. It seems that there is a rush to legislate or crush everything that is deemed bad or incorrect by the electorate or the daily mail.

    I may totally agree with the idea that "extreme porn" is a bad thing. I also happen to think trying to legislate against it is quagmire of illiberality and the whole thing is a waste parliamentary time. My moral compass tells me to tolerate its rather small and puny existence and get on with saving some starving people.

  42. Watashi

    Just to be safe...

    The "just to be safe" argument was invented to justify US military budgets back during the latter stages of the Cold War. The argument ran thus: it was impossible to know whether or not the Russians had developed some amazingly secret super-weapon because this super-weapon could be invisible to US spy sattelites. The 'rational' position was to assume that the Russians DID have these weapons and so the best thing to do was try and develop these super-weapons as well.

    Of course, if a fraction of the Cold War military money had been spent on investigating the Russian war machine it would quickly have been discovered that the Russians couldn't even afford to pay and feed their own soldiers, let alone spend billions on new weapons.

    Later, the same argument was used to justify invading Iraq. A lack of evidence was met with a "just to be safe" argument in the higher echelons of the British government. Once Blair was convinced by Bush, all that was needed was to fake the evidence needed to persuade the Iraqi apologists and anti-war peaceniks. Remember how Blair wanted evidence to persuade the UN that the war was just, but didn't need any to convince himself?

    The same principle is applied to censorship. There MAY be a link between sex in the media and sex crmes, so "just to be safe" we should ban extreme porn. However, just like the Cold War, a great deal of effort and money could be saved by some proper ground-work. The total cost of creating new laws, paying new lawyers and building new prisons to put the new criminals into, combined with the cost of extra policing and censorship and added to the human cost of those who will find their lives ruined on the basis of commiting a potentially unjust crime will be many times the cost of doing some decent research in the first place.

    But that's to miss the point. New Labour has a puritan / authoritarian agenda to follow, as well as an election to win. Making a big fuss over locking up a small minority of the population who can be presented as a big danger to children and women is a no-brainer as far as New Labour think-tanks are concerned (see anti-terrorist legislation). The nature of the 'crime' has a built-in defence mechanism against liberals. It's easy to defend protesters or single mum debters, it's much harder to publicly defend men who watch extreme porn. If the research was done and it turned out that there was NO link, then the vote-winning opportunity would be lost. For New Labour, it's better not to know.

    The irony here is that you really don't need to create a link between extreme porn and sex crimes to justify taking steps to remove extreme porn from society. Beside the obviously demeaning effects simulated rape has towards women, there is growing evidence that using extreme porn is bad for the men who do it and the relationships these men are in. If I was a New Labour think-tank, I'd be putting my efforts into examining the relationship between porn and sexual disfunction / reliationship problems and the relationship between the porn derived objectification of women in the media and the growth of eating disorders and plastic surgery amongs women in the UK. But these questions would open up several nasty cans of worms that I imagine wouldn't sit well with New Labour's simplistic world view.

  43. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    NO link between porn and crime.

    If there was any link between extreme internet porn and actual offences committed, we would by now be totally overwhelmed by sexual offences. The quantity or extreme porn available and the number of people who access it has increased dramatically with the advent of the internet, but the actual of crimes has not risen in anything like that proportion. In fact some places have reported a drop in sexual crime since the internet became available.

  44. Graham Marsden
    Thumb Down


    "Beside the obviously demeaning effects simulated rape has towards women, there is growing evidence that using extreme porn is bad for the men who do it and the relationships these men are in."

    I'm sorry, but have you been reading the Government's Rapid Evidence Assessment instead of this article? Because that's the only way that you could actually come to that conclusion!

    All the way through this article is pointing out how flawed this "evidence" you refer to is and the lack of factual basis for it, yet you trot out the tired old "it's demeaning to women" and "it's bad for men" arguments again.

    Personally I think that Reality TV programmes are demeaning to their participants and being unfaithful to your partner is bad for relationships (for men and for women) yet I wouldn't call for legislation to ban them.

    About the only point you get right is that the Government *SHOULD* "put their efforts into examining the relationship between porn and sexual disfunction / relationship problems and the relationship between the porn derived objectification of women in the media and the growth of eating disorders and plastic surgery amongs women in the UK." but only if they actually do an impartial and unbiased study (instead of cobbling together something from reports which already agree with the conclusions they want to reach) because if they do, they'll almost certainly find that there is no relationship between these.

    Of course they won't do that because it wouldn't fit with their (and your) "emotion based policy making"...

  45. Anonymous Coward

    @Darling Petunia - fraud and revolt. I hope it's the latter

    Sorry, there are already too many fraudlent, revolting politicians. Just vote NO.

    @RW - All he wanted was another statistic to pull out of his hat on demand...

    Right idea, wrong place.

    @Alfazed - CODS missing maxim, "Dirty Data Breads Dirty Little Minds".

    Yes, that would be the CODSpiece.

  46. SteveMD

    Rationality not morality.

    The problem with the argument for "rational morality both in government and society in general.", is; who defines what is and is not moral? The government pushed the Dangerous pictures act through the Human rights committee on the grounds that it was to "protect public morals". I have yet to see any legal definition of morality, let alone public morality. Morality is an elastic concept, able to mean many things, whether that is banning abortions or allowing them. In short morality is a matter of opinion.

    A call for rationality, is not saying the government must behave rationally, clearly from their, corrupt, point of view the Dangerous pictures act was rational. It is parliament, the media and the electorate, as a whole, which must be rational. Tall order yes, but more rationality, by however small an increment, is better than less.

    The insistence that data must be checked, for the media, as well as politicians and that laws are not made without credible and compelling evidence to support them is a rational approach. Okay, not all data is clear-cut and often it must be interpreted. That is the job of academics and there are mechanisms for trying to see it is done right, they are not perfect and not always completely rational, but they are a damn sight better than judgements made on the basis of morals or political pragmatism.

  47. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Excellent article

    Well argued and deserves wider exposure in the print media than it will actually get - the pages of the Mail spring to mind.

    The footprint of "evidence based" policy making of the deceitful type you discuss seems to be everywhere this government goes, which seems to be every corner of our lives. We are supposed to just swallow the 'evidence' presented, then than whichever minister is responsible for saving us from our own deviant behaviour/poor economic choices. Academic/scientific/medical research seems to have been going the same way for a long time, with funding-starved universities apparently prepared to reach the conclusions desired by whomsoever is handing out the wonga - or the report just 'disappears' if those conclusions are 'wrong'. Drug companies seem especially enamoured of having their products given the stamp of some respected uni.

    It's now almost impossible for the casually interested voter to judge any piece of evidential research without looking at whose moniker is attached. A recent ' survey' revealed that:

    "...of 2,060 people showed 55% believe in heaven, while 53% believe in life after death and 70% believe in the human soul."

    Which is about as far from my own anecdotal experience, gut instinct and every other survey that I can imagine. The producers of this god friendly bilge? Theos, the "public theology think tank", who might just have an axe to grind.

    On the basis of evidence of potential harm, the Daily Mail should be out of business. This was, after all, the paper that held quite a favourable opinion of Hitler in the 1930's.

  48. michael

    my 2p (if it has not been given to the banks?)


    re:Crime depends on a perception of a criminal?!?!?!?!?

    """"But, as a crime, whether rape takes place or not depends on the perception of the perpetrator - whether or not he had reasonable cause to believe that consent was present."

    Sorry, does it mean that if I don't think/know it is a crime to steal, I can come and pick up your computer and everything else I like?

    Or if somebody believes that wearing short skirt or tight t-short (both men and women) means a sign of attraction, is it OK for that person immediately to try to use that opportunity and some "accidental" no and physical resistance or even stillness as a sign of love?!?!?!?"""

    the problem is the ONLY difference between rape and sex is consent if a woman in a slightly drink induced haze says yes to a man and in the moaning forgets or can not rember saying yes and screamers rape is it fare for that mans life to be destroyed just cos she can not rember?

    to do a slightly different take on your anoligy if a computer is sitting on the pavement with a sine on it saying "please take" and I take it is it stealing if you later change your mind and call the police?

  49. David Shepherd

    ban underwear

    unfortunately something similar almost happened when I was in the US 10 years ago ... started with a tragic accident where a child was very seriously burned and may even have died because her cotton pajamas caught fire when she accidently brushed against a lighted candle. While this might have been a cue for a campaign on dangers of candles/fire instead it lead to a move to introduce a law to ban the sale of cotton nightwear for children!

  50. SteveMD

    "causes of crime"

    "Beside the obviously demeaning effects simulated rape has towards women, there is growing evidence that using extreme porn is bad for the men who do it and the relationships these men are in."

    I am sure we would all be interested to see this evidence and who is compiling it, could you give us a link?

    According to Nancy Friday, a psychologist, 25% of her female patients and 30% of her male patients enjoy rape fantasies, both as perpetrator and victim. That does not mean that such fantasies demean them or that they really want them to become true. We all indulge in fantasies from time to time. It may be that such fantasies are cathartic and there is evidence to back that idea up; Not proof, by any means, but stronger than the "evidence" for censorship of consenting porn for adults.

    Adult porn, of any kind is fantasy. We should be spending more time making it clear that such things are fantasy only and unacceptable in the real world, rather than the silly, futile and damaging attempts to ban them.

    We should spend less time trying to figure out what is going on in peoples heads, the so called "causes of crime" and more time and resources addressing actual behaviour.

    Saying that "porn is the theory, rape is the practice" only gives the rapist an excuse, what is the difference between that statement and "she was wearing sexy clothes, so she was asking for it"?

    Experienced psychologists may take years of skilled questioning to dig out the motivation of individuals, why do we think that a few blunt laws can simply remove such motivations? We have no real idea why most people commit anti-social acts, but we do know what works in curbing anti-social behaviour; take a look at super-nanny. Draw a line and punish those who cross it, consistently and without fear or favour. Unfortunately that would mean spending money on more and better trained police, so why not just pass another silly law? It's a useless and probably damaging gesture, but it looks like we are doing something and it's cheap.


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