New Year's resolution #3: I will not repeat inaccurate claims

Published: 27 Dec 2013

 

As Oscar Wilde might have said had he jacked in the play writing and become a factchecker, "to make a mistake once is unfortunate, to make it twice looks like carelessness."

Politicians and journalists, who work on complex issues to very tight deadlines, might be expected to make more mistakes than most of us. But as long as these mistakes are quickly and prominently corrected, we hope that any damage caused by the bad information can be put right. That's why Full Fact doesn't just point out inaccuracies, but seeks to get them corrected as swiftly as we can (we've had corrections across the media and political spectrum this year).

But when somebody continues to use a claim even after it's been pointed out to them that it's inaccurate, our sympathy begins to wane.

Perhaps the longest-running 'zombie claim' we've seen is the notion that three million British jobs rely directly upon the UK's involvement in the EU. There is no research to support this, as we pointed out over two years ago when we first came across the claim, which itself dates back a decade. At best, there are three million jobs which are connected to trade with European countries, which may or may not continue to exist if Britain were to leave the EU (although even this relies upon research described as "past [its] sell-by date" by the organisation which conducted the study).

We haven't exactly been shy in pointing out this error. We've written to Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander after both Lib Dem front-benchers repeated the claim following our rebuttal. We highlighted its inaccuracy on the BBC's Today programme in August. So it was particularly disappointing to see the Deputy Prime Minister again use the figure inaccurately when he stood in for David Cameron at Prime Minister's Questions earlier this month.

Sometimes the hardest part of persuading people to stop using claims that demonstratbly don't stack up is spotting it when they do. We're grateful to everyone who's been in touch this year to point out claims we've covered before coming up again. Despite the existence of some zombie claims, very often contact from us is enough to get the story straight.

 

Check back on Monday and Tuesday for our fourth and fifth suggested New Year's resolutions.


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