More media myths about immigration

Misinformation provides cover for the coalition. Why isn’t Labour doing more to fight it?

Journalistic sleight of hand was at work today once more on the issue of immigration. Following a National Audit Office report that calls for increased checking and management information, a figure mentioned fleetingly in the report – that over 180,000 migrants "could be in Britain illegally", as the Telegraph put it – has hit the headlines.

To quote the report (PDF) at length, something that the media are failing to do, we see that:

The Agency estimates there may be up to 181,000 migrants in total (not just entering through the system) in the UK whose permission to remain has expired since December 2008. It expects to revise this estimate downwards, however, following matching with new data being provided by its e-Borders project.

A sober look at the actual words of the National Audit Office gives a very different understanding from the hysteria of the press. At no point is the figure 181,000 presented as either realistic, or even probable. To say that a figure, preceded by the two provisos "may be" and "up to" – and followed by an expectation of a downwards revision – is circumspect would be an understatement.

But that hasn't prevented headlines like the Telegraph's appearing across the media: "181,000 migrants 'in UK illegally'," said the Daily Star, Express and Evening Standard. Even the Independent, which really should know better, went for "Report claims 181,000 migrants 'in UK illegally'".

As the Home Secretary and her immigration minister Damian Green will benefit from poor information that will make their attacks on immigration more palatable to the populace, it's worth taking a closer look at the figures. Even if "181,000" was a reliable statistic and not an inflated figure, it accounts for just 0.0029 of the population. To get a sense of scale, 181,000 is about a third of the total number of people working in the care industry in the UK.

Still, it's more fuel for the anti-immigration lobby, and there remains little opposition from the Labour benches, seemingly cowed by the issue. Far from confronting the lies, myths and misinformation, the Labour front bench are operating a policy of see-no-evil-speak-no-evil on immigration. They are most likely hoping the matter will abate as a result of the Tory crackdown.

That's no way for Labour to win respect, nor does it work in the interests of the country. The opposition needs to be presenting a policy that would lead to a flexible, demand-based immigration system that would bolster the economy and fill vacancies.

Guy Taylor is campaigns and communications officer at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants.

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White supremacists are embracing genetic testing – but they aren't always that keen on the results

Users of far-right site Stormfront are resorting to pseudo science and conspiracy theories when DNA tests show they aren't as “pure” as they hoped.

The field of genomics and genetics have undergone almost exponential growth in recent years. Ventures like the Human Genome Project have enabled t humanity to get a closer look at our building blocks. This has led to an explosion in genetic ancestry testingand as of 6 April 2017 23AndMe, one of the most popular commercial DNA testing websites, has genotyped roughly 2 million customers.

It is perhaps unsurprising that one of the markets for genetic testing can be found among white suprmacists desperate to prove their racial purity. But it turns out that many they may not be getting the results they want. 

Stormfront, the most prominent white nationalist website, has its own definition of those who are allowed to count themselves as white - “non-Jewish people of 100 per cent European ancestry.” But many supremacists who take genetic tests are finding out that rather than bearing "not a drop" of non-white blood, they are - like most of us a conglomerate of various kinds of DNA from all over the world including percentages from places such as sub Saharan Africa and Asia. Few are taking it well.

Dr. Aaron Panofsky and Joan Donovan, of UCLA’s Institute for Society and Genetics and the research institute Data and Society respectively, presented a research study (currently under peer review for publication) at the American Sociological Association a week ago, analysing discussion of GAT on Stormfront forums. Panofsky, Donovan and a team of researchers narrowed down the relevant threads to about 700, with 153 users who had chosen to publish their results online. While Panofsky emphasised that it is not possible to draw many quantitative inferences, the findings of their study offer a glimpse into the white nationalist movement's response to science that doesn't their self perception. 

“The bulk of the discussion was repair talk”, says Panofsky. “Though sometimes folks who posted a problematic result were told to leave Stormfront or “drink cyanide” or whatever else, 'don’t breed', most of the talk was discussion about how to interpret the results to make the bad news go away”.

Overwhelmingly, there were two main categories of reinterpretation. Many responses dismissed GAT as flimsy science – with statements such as a “person with true white nationalist consciousness can 'see race', even if their tests indicate 'impurity'".

Other commentators employed pseudo-scientific arguments. “They often resemble the critiques that professional geneticists, biological anthropologists and social scientists, make of GAT, but through a white nationalist lens", says Panofsky. 

For instance, some commentators would look at percentages of non-European DNA and put it down to the rape of white women by non-white men in the past, or a result of conquests by Vikings of savage lands (what the rest of us might call colonialism). Panofsky likens this to the responses from “many science opponents like climate deniers or anti-vaxxers, who are actually very informed about the science, even if they interpret and critique it in idiosyncratic and motivated ways".

Some white nationalists even looked at the GAT results and suggested that discussion of 100 per cent racial purity and the "one drop" rule might even be outdated – that it might be better to look for specific genetic markets that are “reliably European”, even though geneticists might call them by a different name.

Of course, in another not totally surprising development, many of the Stormfront commentators also insisted that GAT is part of a Jewish conspiracy, “to confuse whites by sprinkling false diversity into test results".

Many of the experts in the field have admitted to queasiness about the test themselves; both how they come to their results and what they imply. There are several technical issues with GAT, such as its use of contemporary populations to make inferences about those who previously lived in different places around the world, and concerns that the diversity of reference samples used to make inferences is not fully representative of the real world. 

There are other specific complications when it comes to the supramacist enthusiasm for GAT. Some already make a tortous argument that white people are the “true people of color" by dint of greater variation in hair and eye color. By breaking up DNA into percentages (e.g. 30 per cent Danish, 20 per cent German), Panofsky says GAT can provide a further opportunity to “appropriate and colonise the discourse of diversity and multiculturalism for their own purposes". There's is also, says Panofsky, the simple issue that “we can’t rely on genetic information to turn white nationalists away from their views."

“While I think it would be nice if the lesson people would take from GAT is that white nationalism is incoherent and wrong. I think white nationalists themselves often take the exact opposite conclusion."