Swinney’s misleading Covid graphic reported to UK Statistics Authority

The Scottish Conservatives have reported John Swinney’s misleading use of Covid information to the UK Statistics Authority.

Health spokeswoman Annie Wells has written to the UK’s National Statistician, Sir Ian Diamond, asking for their input on the use of an unverified graphic that makes claims about the effectiveness of wearing a mask against Covid.

Yesterday, Nicola Sturgeon said she would “reflect” on the use of this information but also defended John Swinney for posting the graphic, which has been disputed by international fact-checking websites.

No Scottish Government official has provided a source for the claims contained in the Deputy First Minister and Covid Recovery Secretary’s tweet.

Last month, Humza Yousaf was rebuked by the UK Statistics Authority for “inaccurate” child Covid claims, after he was reported by the Scottish Conservatives.

Scottish Conservative Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Health, Annie Wells MSP, said: “More than 48 hours after journalists and the Scottish Conservatives raised concerns about this misleading graphic, no action has been taken.

“A message from the Deputy First Minister that is essentially fake news has been retweeted nearly 1,000 times and has likely reached an audience in the tens or possibly even hundreds of thousands.

 

“We have given the SNP every opportunity to admit their mistake and fix this. It has also been raised directly with the First Minister and Scottish Government officials by the media.

“The continued use of an unverified graphic like this is potentially dangerous. It undermines the serious public health message that masks can limit the spread of the virus. It may even convince some people that there is zero risk from Covid in certain situations, which is not supported by science.

“The repeatedly poor judgement from the SNP Government on this issue is concerning. Fake news must be stamped out and we have reported this graphic to the UK Statistics Authority for their input, since SNP Ministers will not act.”

Notes

The graphic remains live: https://twitter.com/JohnSwinney/status/1417043757812305920

The letter has been sent this afternoon. It reads as follows:

Dear Sir Ian,

Misleading statistics used by the Scottish Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Covid Recovery.

I write to you regarding the above matter.

You may be aware of recent media reports concerning statistics that were used by the Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Covid Recovery, John Swinney MSP.

In a graphic posted online, Mr Swinney made various claims about the effectiveness of wearing masks to prevent Covid, most of which appear to be unfounded. International fact-checking websites have previously investigated some of the claims and found them to be at least partly false.

After reports emerged in the Scottish press, the Deputy First Minister, via a spokesperson, refused to provide a source for the information in the graphic. Neither was it deleted.

The First Minister subsequently said she would “reflect” on the use of the graphic but 24 hours later, it still had not been deleted, nor have the Scottish Government provided a source for the information.

At the time of this statement, these statistics were not available in the public domain. They appear to be unverified and misleading, at best. The Scottish Government have been asked to release the statistics repeatedly and refused to do so. Neither have they formally corrected the information and deleted the erroneous statistics.

The correct use of statistics is vital, particularly when issuing public health guidance during a pandemic. As such, I would be grateful if you could investigate this matter and take appropriate action as you see fit.

Yours sincerely,

Annie Wells MSP

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