Call the Myth Busters

The Ghostbusters are returning with a new film this summer. In their absence we have seen something very interesting. Not ghosts – but some individuals, journalists and media outlets that have been doing some busting of their own – the myth busters.

In the complex world in which we live, data is becoming increasingly important to help us navigate and make informed decisions. One only needs to re-watch Question Time from Dundee on Thursday night to see the extent to which assertions and counter-assertions about Independence (from the UK, from Europe) and oil prices were met with audience frustration and an exasperated David Dimbleby.

Rumours, scares and unfounded fears have all been in the news recently, here’s the counter view on a few headline-grabbing stories from those who have dug a little deeper:

When David Cameron wrote about tackling the race bias at elite institutions including Oxford University, he was supported by Michael Portillo on This Week. However, Portillo found himself on the back foot when Andrew Neil busted some of the myths. The Spectator is strong here too – for example when referring to the substantial publicity given to alcohol statistics.

You may remember the memorable headlines like ‘Mobile Phones are cooking men’s sperm’ (login required) from a couple of weeks ago. Again, the Spectator has dug a bit deeper and makes clear that this is not the case.

We are a long way from a tipping point but the dangers are real. Mis-representing facts is like the boy who cries wolf. Extreme headlines start to shock us less. We believe the evidence less. We question the messenger more. Valid and accurate messages can get lost in the mix. Organisations promoting a particular viewpoint can find their arguments weakened over time if those arguments are not supported by clear facts or proof points. This is something we make clear to our own clients when we help them craft robust messages and supporting proof points.

In the weeks ahead we can expect a huge number of ‘facts’ to be discussed about the EU, indeed The Telegraph claims the definitive list already. We will see how much accuracy the debate has – and how many myths can be busted before the ghosts return in the summer.