Who’d be a politician? Or, even, a politician’s special advisor? Whatever your politics, the reaction to Dominic Cummings and his explanation for driving from London to Durham in March – in spite of Covid-19 regulations and advice that Cummings himself helped draw up – has been eye-opening to say the least. ‘Eye-opening’ might be particularly apt, considering Cummings said he went for a 30-mile drive to make sure his eyes still worked.
Normally when public figures make defensive statements to argue a position, at least one national newspaper would do a ‘Fact Check’ on any claims made. I can’t see any such articles in the mainstream press for what Twitter was calling #CumGate, so just for the sheer hell of it here is a bit of my own fact checking and the questions it throws up around bias.
- Drove from London to Durham without stopping.
London to Durham is 267 miles. Judging by press coverage, Cummings drives a Land Rover Discovery (not sure of the model though). At worst, these do around 25.8 miles per gallon. So, that means 10.4 gallons are needed to complete the journey.
Even if we assume Cummings drives the Land Rover Discovery with the smallest fuel tank, that would be a 65 litre engine. Converting those gallons to litres, this is 47 litres of fuel need to make the journey.
2. Drove from London to Durham without stopping with a small child in the back.
The child is reported to be 3 or 4 years old. The journey takes around 4 hours 30 mins in normal traffic, driving to appropriate speed limits. Unknown information here is whether or not the child is still in nappies (all children are different so no judging going on here). If so, the trip was possible.
3. Drove 30 miles to a beauty spot (on his wife’s birthday) to test his eyesight.
Not sure where to start here. I guess the key thing here is to understand whether Covid-19 can impact eyesight, and whether or not it takes 30 miles (between 30-50 minutes) to figure out whether or not you can see properly. Scientific advice varies here, seemingly depending on how much bias you have one way or the other.
Conclusion: Completely implausible if you read the left-leaning Guardian newspaper, or very plausible if you are a right-leaning Daily Telegraph reader.
Bias permeates this whole Cummings story from beginning to end. Whatever the ins and outs of the actions Cummings made and has since tried to explain away, it is probably fair to say that he’s come in for excessive vitriol from the general public and press because of his free-wheeling, yet hard-edged, ruthless public persona.
It probably doesn’t help that Cummings isn’t elected, either. The public feel like they can get rid of politicians, but perhaps the public at large might not feel like they can get rid of Cummings, and this in turn is causing an even more extreme reaction to his behaviour than might have otherwise been the case.
Maybe, maybe not? All I know is that for me, on one level, the Cummings debacle does at least reinforce the idea that if you are using information to serve any neutral purpose, you really ought to be sense-checking for bias that might sway your opinion either way (the stance taken by the Guardian and the Daily Telegraph illustrates this perfectly). On another level, the story is just one more crazy story to reflect the crazy times we are living in.