The Telegraph headline that is wrong by a factor of 4,369,000

“More or less” is a programme which more than adequately answers the question: “What is Radio Four for?”.

It investigates numbers in the news, giving a very refreshing evidence-based angle to media hysteria.

You can listen to this week’s episode here.

One of the items (starting at 14 minutes in) they looked at was the Daily Telegraph headline:

Just 100 cod left in North Sea

You can still read the story online here but there is a clarifying statement underneath it now.

This Telegraph story emanated from the Sunday Times (now clarified) claim that there were 100 adult cod left in the North Sea.

The Sunday Times wrongly assumed that the average age of an adult cod is 13 years old, but most adult cod in the North Sea are below 7 years old. They used a website called Fishbase which is accurate, but the Sunday Times used the maximum age of 25 years old for cod in the Barents Sea, not the North Sea, where it is 11 years old.

More or less found that the correct Sunday Times headline should have been, in fact: “21 million adult cod left in North Sea”.

They found that the Telegraph headline should read:

Just 436,900,000 cod left in North Sea

More or less think this is the “wrongest number” they have ever reported.

It’s worth listening to the programme, if only to hear the indignant Scottish trawlerman saying:

I’ve been fishing in the North Sea for thirty years and I have never seen so many cod as there is now. It annoys me that these numbers are made up by people who probably don’t even know what a cod looks like.


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