Full Fact fails to spot Jeremy Corbyn’s dishonest data picking first time

I have a lot of time for Full Fact, the independent fact checking charity. We need them.

Yesterday though they cocked up and fell for one of the oldest tricks in the book – it is called data picking. Choosing the data to suit your argument. We all do it to some extent but you can usually spot it, or stop yourself doing it, if you look at the wider data to see if the factoid being pushed at you is reasonable or relies on a quirk in the data.

On Wednesday at Prime Minister’s question time Jeremy Corbyn came out with a dishonest factoid that was based on just such data picking. He said:

The amount of tax paid by the super-rich in income tax has fallen from 4.4 billion to 3.5 billion since 2009.

Oh dear you might think. Killer factoid. The Tories are bang to rights. Well, no.

Unfortunately yesterday Full Fact fell for Corbyn’s trick and they pushed out a piece that said, yes, he was right and tweeted this link to it at 11.05am with a graphic, since withdrawn.

As soon as I saw the tweet I knew exactly the trick that had been played. The data had been distorted by changes to the highest rate of tax, 50% on incomes over £150,000, introduced in April 2010. And then reduced to 45% in April 2013. Wealthy individuals took their income in 2009/2010 rather than 2010/2011 to benefit from the 40% rate. Hence the tax take dropped from £4.4 billion to £2.8 billion. The opposite happened three years later when the rate went back down to 45%. People deferred their income which meant the tax take went up from £2.6 billion to £3.9 billion. You can see the effect of the rate changes quite clearly in the chart below. The tax take from the wealthiest is creeping up.

£3 billion in 2011/2012.
Average of £3.25 billion the next two years.
£3.5 billion in 2014/2015.

To their credit Full fact withdrew their earlier piece and replaced it with one that was much more fact-ey. Well done. Beware of data picking.

This entry was posted in Facts and data - and fibs about them. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Full Fact fails to spot Jeremy Corbyn’s dishonest data picking first time

  1. Will Moy says:

    Hi Phil

    You’re right about what happened. Thank you for pointing it out so we could correct it.

    Thank you too for your kind words about our work.

    It matters to us when we make mistakes. Of course we correct them, clearly and publicly. We’ll also be reviewing how it happened and what more we can do to avoid these kinds of mistakes. This was a frustrating example because it’s a caveat to the income tax data that as a team we know about and have covered before – so clearly we need to work on better ways of sharing our internal knowledge on specific kinds of claims.

    Sorry to all our readers for the mistake and thanks again

    Will Moy (Director, Full Fact)

  2. Phil says:

    Will,

    I think it is best assume that any politician citing a factoid will have picked their data to make their case sound better. So probably always best to assume the worst!

    Phil

Comments are closed.