JOHANNESBURG — This under evaluation ought to type the base of a case research of how a misguided interpretation of statistics may end up in a skewed and unrealistic image of what’s actually occurring on the floor. It makes the job of journalists in at the moment’s world that rather more essential as they should critically take into consideration the statistics they report on earlier than hitting the publishing button. (This evaluation under first appeared in Politicsweb and republished right here with permission.) – Gareth van Zyl
By The Ratcatcher
On Tuesday this week Police Minister Bheki Cele launched the South African Police Service’s crime statistics for 2017/2018. The knowledge contained in the SAPS’ presentation detonated a small explosion beneath a declare repeatedly made, over the previous month, by a few of the world’s most prestigious newspapers, authoritative “Fact Checkers”, and most sensible diplomats. How this got here to cross is an fascinating case research in how, in our present age, a falsity can nonetheless journey midway round the world, and again once more, lengthy after the fact has put its boots on and kicked the rattling factor to death.
Police Minister Bheki Cele.
The story begins with a reply to a parliamentary query from Freedom Entrance chief Pieter Groenewald MP by the Minister of Police on the third of Might 2018. In it Bheki Cele offered detailed knowledge from the SAPS on the provincial breakdown of farm murders and farm assaults by yr from 2012/13 to 2017/18. This was helpful info because it advised that the burden of one of these crime fell disproportionally on farms and small holdings in the japanese half of the nation, and that any evaluation of this phenomenon wanted to take this under consideration.
The figures weren’t unproblematic nevertheless. The nationwide totals for farm murders in the 2015/16 and 2016/17 durations have been considerably decrease than official figures earlier launched by SAPS. The figure of 47 farm murders for the 1 April 2017 to 31 March 2018 interval (down from 74 the yr earlier than) additionally appeared implausibly low. One probably rationalization for this was merely that the figures had been compiled solely a month after the finish of the reporting yr, and weren’t full. As Sally de Beer of the SAPS had informed Africa Examine the yr earlier than “the database is a ‘live’ system, meaning that the statistics derived from it are subject to change if new information on cases emerges. The database is not primarily intended as a source of statistics, but as an operational tool.” The very fact-checking website cautioned in its 2017 fact-sheet on this situation that, “As such, statistics for certain years may change.” There was thus good cause to not put any weight on this final, in all probability provisional, nationwide figure.
Then on the 31st Might 2018 Agri SA launched a report on farm assaults. This contained the following graph:
The supply given for the knowledge is clearly “SAPS” (see arrow). The individual compiling the graph had merged the knowledge offered to Pieter Groenewald at the starting of the month with different beforehand launched SAPS statistics. The place they conflicted – for 2015/16 and 2016/17 – Agri SA went with the considerably decrease figures from Might. The Agri SA report commented: “When police statistics, as announced in Parliament for the past six years, are viewed more closely, it appears that farm attacks had increased while murders declined on a year-on-year basis.” The variety of “47” is contained in the graph, however not in the textual content of the report.
Regardless of Agri SA’s clear admonition to “treat farm attack statistics with caution”, Information24 ran a massively hyped-up story the similar day asserting that “Farm murders have decreased to their lowest level in more than 20 years, a report by agricultural organisation AgriSA has found.” It made the declare that “According to AgriSA’s statistics, farm murders decreased from 66 recorded incidents in 2016/2017 to 47 in 2017/2018. This was less than a third of the record highs recorded in the late 1990s, when 153 murders were recorded in 1997/1998.” On this method the questionable SAPS numbers launched earlier that month have been now magically reworked into gold normal statistics from Agri SA.
As a Ratcatcher article (revealed inside hours of the Information24 report first showing) famous, the SAPS knowledge Agri SA had used for the previous three years was not dependable, and the figure of “47” for 2017/18 was merely wrong. A fast and soiled evaluation of the SAPS figures for 3 provinces revealed a minimum of eight clear reduce farm homicide instances, reported in the press, which couldn’t have been included in these figures. The article famous:
“Given that a brief news search could establish eight cases missed by the SAPS the true under-count must be substantial. The SAPS figures should also be more not less comprehensive than press reporting. The News24’s headline then is based upon a SAPS figure which was implausible to begin with, and which is provably wrong.”
AfriForum, which collects its personal knowledge on farm murders and farm assaults, additionally vehemently disputed this figure.
The assertion that there have been solely 47 farm murders in 2017/18 and subsequently at their “lowest level in more than 20 years”, ought to have been quietly buried, and left to relaxation in peace from then on.
Rise of a zombie factoid
In late June 2018 nevertheless Jason Burke of the Guardian of London determined to disinter this declare, and the quantity on which it was based mostly. In an article on the 27th June 2018 he said that “Forty-seven farmers were killed in 2017-18, according to statistics compiled by AgriSA, an association of hundreds of agricultural associations across South Africa … The new lower totals contradict recent reports in Australian and other western media describing white farmers in South Africa facing “a surge in violence’.”
The opening sentence of Burke’s piece contained three factual errors. It conflated farm murders with murders of farmers (not all the time the similar factor), cited a figure that had been already proven to be false (47), and claimed that these statistics had been compiled by Agri SA (they have been from the SAPS).
This zombie-like factoid – that farm murders have been at a “twenty year low” – started massively replicating itself after US President Donald Trump tweeted, following a Fox Information broadcast by Tucker Carlson on looming land seizures in SA, that he had “asked Secretary of State @SecPompeo to closely study the South Africa land and farm seizures and expropriations and the large scale killing of farmers.” In the subsequent rush to debunk Trump’s feedback on farm murders this declare was repeatedly invoked by US and British publications, typically linking again to Burke’s Guardian article as the supply.
For instance an article in the New York Occasions on the 23rd August 2018 by Kimon de Greef and Palko Karasz said that: “The number of killings of farmers, including farm workers, is at a 20-year low, 47 in the fiscal year 2017-18, according to research published in July by AgriSA, a farmers’ organization in South Africa.” This similar declare was then repeated in an editorial in the publication denouncing Trump, which added that the “numbers have been declining steadily since peaking in 1998, when 153 were killed.”
In an article for the Monetary Occasions Joseph Cotterill said that “Agri SA, a farmers’ organisation, said in May that farm murders were at their lowest level in two decades. There were 47 murders between 2017 and 2018 compared with 66 over the previous period, it said.”
It was additionally credulously accepted by the American and British Reality-Checking institution.
The Washington Publish Reality Checker wrote that “the government’s farm-murder statistic has been declining steadily from its peak in 2001-2002, when the total was 140. Separate figures from Agri SA show that murders of farmers are at a 20-year low, with 47 recorded in the year from April 2017 to March 2018 period, the Guardian reported.”
The BBC’s “Reality Check” claimed that “AgriSA, an association of agricultural organisations, also records murders and attacks on farms. It found that in the year to April 2018, there were 47 murders, with their data showing a decline from a high in 1998, when 153 people were killed.”
Politifact repeated the declare that “there were 47 farm murders in the 2017-18 financial year” they usually “have been declining over time.” However to its (partial) credit score it appropriately attributed the supply of this info to the SAPS, not AgriSA.
The web myth-busting web site Snopes in the meantime reposted the AgriSA graph above and in addition said that “the number of farm murders in South Africa hit a 30-year low point in 2017-18, according to a report released by the South African Agricultural Industry (AgriSA) that cited South African police data.”
Then, at the finish of August, Overseas Coverage ran an article headlined “In Tacit Rebuke, U.S. Embassy in South Africa Rejects Trump Tweet: Internal cable cites report that farm murders in South Africa are at their lowest level in 19 years”. Robbie Gramer and Colum Lynch reported on the contents of a leaked cable to Washington DC from US diplomats in South Africa which was headed ““Despite Crime Epidemic, Farm Murders Down.” The authors reported that the cable had “cited a recent report by AgriSA, a nonprofit industry group that represents 70,000 commercial farmers, that estimated that there were 47 farm murders from 2017 to 2018, fewer than at any time in the past 19 years.”
None of those journalists, diplomats or Reality Checkers although it value cautioning that the variety of 47 had lengthy been proven (by a body-count) to be too low, and even that it was contested. Though implausible to start with – and lengthy disproven by the time it began feasting on the brains of British and American intellectuals – this factoid was apparently too handy to not unleash upon readers as properly. It was additional invested with bogus authority by merely asserting that the quantity got here from Agri SA, relatively than extremely provisional police figures. Information24’s puffed up interpretation of Agri SA’s considerably extra cautious evaluation have been additionally introduced as reflecting the latter organisation’s personal view.
Finish of an error
On Tuesday the South African Police Service, throughout their press briefing, launched up to date figures for the variety of recorded farm murders (although not assaults) for 2017/18. The SAPS presentation said that there have been, in truth, 62 farm murders final yr, not 47. The SAPS added that 42 of the murders occurred on farms, 15 on small holdings and one at a cattle publish. 46 victims have been white. If one compares the provincial breakdown with the info launched on the third Might there was an under-count of eighteen murders in eight provinces (three of which had been recognized by the Ratcatcher) and an over-count of three in a single (the North West.)
SAPS statistics for the variety of farm murders in the 1st April 2017 to 31st March 2018 time interval:
third Might 2018 provisional SAPS figures
9 September 2018 official SAPS figures
In a press release launched yesterday Agri SA accepted the new figures, noting that “it is worrying that 62 farm murders occurred during 2017/2018. It is 15 murders more than what was announced in parliament earlier this year.” The variety of 62 farm murders is down from final yr’s spike of 74, however it’s nonetheless above the lowest figure ever recorded by SAPS, which was 56 in 2011/12. See graph under.
In different phrases this most up-to-date knowledge utterly blows up what stays of the factual foundation for the declare that the variety of farm murders in 2017/18 in South Africa was at its “lowest point in twenty years”. Although considerably down from its peak in the late 1990s the current development when it comes to farm murders and extra particularly assaults has additionally clearly been upwards.
Word: In deciphering the which means of this graph above, over time, one also needs to tread rigorously provided that the variety of business farmers has declined dramatically post-1994. Amongst various push elements has been the lack of private safety on weak farms, financial elements comparable to the withdrawal of all state help, and authorities’s land redistribution and restitution programmes. There’s additionally a 3 yr hole in the SAPS knowledge between 2007 and 2009. It’s also not utterly clear whether or not the pre-2007 SAPS collection is absolutely comparable with the post-2010 one.
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