This piece by Philip Eden from the Daily Telegraph (7 Feb 2009) was brought to my attention by Rev Philip Foster of Cambridgeshire:
"How a few statistics snowballed into a lie"
By Philip Eden
"THE heaviest snow in Britain for 18 years? Wrong. The way this erroneous headline escaped into the public domain, and came to encapsulate this week's wintry weather, provides a cautionary tale for all journalists and politicians.
The original statistic was released on Monday morning, and it said, correctly, that central London had experienced its heaviest snowfall since February 1991. About six inches lay in the London parks that day, and rather more than 12 inches in northwest Kent, north Surrey, and the south London suburbs. During the '91 snowfall a foot of snow fell even in central London.
Watching the BBC news channel during the day the headline gradually morphed from "the heaviest snow in central London for 18 years" to "the heaviest snow in parts of the South for 18 years" to "the heaviest snow in some parts of the country for 18 years", and by late-afternoon we finally ended up with "Britain's worst snowstorm for 18 years".
This would be a relatively trivial point if that were the end of the matter. But it is not. On 'Question Time' on Thursday Geoff Hoon, the Transport Secretary, excused local authorities in all parts of the country for their inability to deal effectively with the snow by saying that they cannot be expected to cope with events which happen only once every 18 years. The other panellists seemed meekly to accept
Once again ˜ as with the floods in summer 2007, the severe gale in January 2007, the pre-christmas fog in 2006, and countless other events ˜ incorrect facts and figures are used by those whose job it is to maintain the nation's infrastructure to evade responsibility for their failure. Only in London, northwest Kent and north Surrey was
such an evasion justfied.
One wonders how on earth we would all manage now if we were faced with a re-run of a winter like 1963 or 1947."