Saturday, June 20, 2015

At home he's a tourist


It should be possible to live in a world where pretty-much everything is based on fact, on hard statistical evidence. We have the historical data, we have the computers and we have a wealth of brainpower: more people than ever having had a university education combined with very well-educated individuals who are living longer.

As such no important decision of great magnitude should be made without hard evidence to back it up. Sadly we are still the victims of political mismanagement and self-interest, of abuse by major corporations and their minions. Mostly this passes us by, newspapers have been hollowed out, eviscerated, and the messages they carry are often for the purposes of their rich owners rather than ours. Occasionally a few heads will rise from the trenches and point out insane inaccuracies such as in this letter from major economists criticising George Osborne’s plan to make deficit reduction into law. Unfortunately it’s not the first time he’s been criticised by educated folk, I need not remind you that his party was re-elected with an increased majority.
As I said in April 2013 the truth is out there but we’re often too lazy to find it. There is a certainty that very few in the media are willing to lead us to it. Instead we are often misled by statistics and the 'interpretation' of fact. I was partly privy to some of this misdirection earlier in the week when I saw reports of UK Music’s  report into ‘music tourism’.

Wish You Were Here is a glowing analysis into the growth of festivals and live music, a very well researched document that aims to promote the UK music industry. I cannot and should not criticise that but I could not help but notice some irregularities. Looking deeper into the methodology made me particularly suspicious of statistics that claimed the industry supported '38,238 full time jobs in 2014’.


Very few people are going to read a 44 page report or even 14 pages of methodology but the frequent appearance of words like ‘estimated’ and the fact that you only need to travel 34 miles in some instances to be regarded as a tourist seemed to undermine the point completely. I am fortunate in knowing people who are more able with statistical evidence than I, those who can quickly crunch numbers and see through stats. Luckily Adam Bowie leapt to his keyboard and wrote this excellent analysis.
As Adam notes the report pretty much rendered everyone who goes to a music festival as a tourist; hardly any of us have festivals in our close proximity. I am somewhat fortunate in having the Godiva Festival site a mile from my house but I’m in the minority. Since that festival is free entry and not widely promoted outside Coventry it may not have made too much impact on the figures in this report, though since they apparently identified 294 festivals in total perhaps it did.
Are we so inured to hype that the mere existence of 294 festivals is not enough? Do we really need to exaggerate the revenue generated or the fact that 9.5 million people attended them? Unfortunately it seems so, we’re only interested in the big numbers even when the report notes that ‘we assume that festivals with a capacity of greater than 30,000 sold out with the remainder of in-scope festivals assumed to have been attended by an audience of 90% of the venue’s capacity’ so even that is ridiculously and unnecessarily unreliable.

As I’ve noted, it feels cruel to poke holes in a report that aims to amplify the importance of the UK music industry. The fact is that we should not need to amplify it in this way. Sadder still that although the culture secretary was happy to be quoted admiring the industry and the profits it generates it won’t stop his Government destroying arts funding and making it less realistic for children to study music and arts.
I’ve tried to teach my children to question everything important; don’t just take things at face value. It’s clearly an important lesson but I regret that it has to be understood by all of us.


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