Anatomy of a lie: How Guide Dogs London fabricated an attack on cyclists

Dodgy stats lead to usual mass-media nonsense

by John Stevenson   August 28, 2014  

Guide dog in training (CC BY-ND 2.0 licenced by Jay-P:Flickr)

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Yesterday road.cc, and just about every other media outlet you can think of, ran a story about how one in four London guide dog owners said their dogs had been hit by cyclists.

The Evening Standard reported the story with this opening paragraph:

"Cyclists are increasingly smashing into blind Londoners and their guide dogs after mounting the pavement and jumping red lights, a charity warned today."

And many outlets used a comment by Robert Harris, London engagement manager for Guide Dogs. Harris said: “We work incredibly hard to get blind or partially sighted people out of their homes and mobile, so to hear that vision impaired people are anxious and in some cases fearful about going out in London because of irresponsible cyclists is very worrying."

On the face of it, this is terrible stuff. The blind are, rightly, a group for whom everyone has sympathy. Making your way in a world full of text and fast-moving objects when you have little or no sight is extremely hard.

Action for Blind People says two-thirds of registered blind and partially sighted people of working age are not in paid employment, and nearly half of blind and partially sighted people feel ‘moderately’ or ‘completely’ cut off from people and things around them.

So, pressed for time as journalists always are, the bald assertions made by Guide Dogs were reported verbatim. Talk of "irresponsible cyclists" "smashing into" people after "mounting the pavement and jumping red lights" is standard anti-cycling media fare. Easy to bang it out and not question it.

Dodgy survey, dodgy numbers

Over the course of the day, more of the background started to emerge. You might think that Guide Dogs London was acting on a vast number of reports of issues with cyclists. Perhaps they'd polled a significant sample of London's 41,000 blind and partially sighted people to find out what problems they had getting around, and been told by a large number that cyclists were an issue.

Not so. The one in four figure comes from a self-selected online survey and represents just 14 people claiming they or their dogs had been hit by cyclists.

You read that right: 14.

Guide Dogs clearly went looking for ammunition, having already decided to target cyclists.

Here, for example, are a couple of tweets from London Guide Dogs:


Thanks to David Robjant ‏(@bike3isavolvo) for spotting those

That survey has since been taken down, so there's no way of knowing to what extent it used leading questions to get the responses London Guide Dogs were looking for, but those tweets are not the words of impartial researchers.

Expectation bias

The signs of dodgy research were there in Guide Dogs' original announcement of the 'CycleEyes' campaign.

It speaks of a "a noted increase in guide dogs and their owners being hit by a bike or having a near miss."

"Most of these reports," the organisation said, "come directly to Guide Dogs verbally."

In other words, Guide Dogs had nothing but the impressions of its staff that blind people were having more problems with cyclists. It's perfectly feasible that this is something researchers call 'expectation bias'. You become aware of something, and suddenly you start seeing it everywhere.

So, Guide Dogs London set up a survey on Survey Monkey and got results that it presented thus:

"Of the guide dog owners who responded, 42% had been involved in a collision with a cyclist and 76% have had a near miss when cyclists either ride on pavements or skip red lights at pedestrian crossings."

The reaction of one guide dog user I mentioned this to was: "How did they know, they're blind?" Well, quite.

Guide Dogs initially claimed one in four of London's 320 guide dog users had been involved in an incident in which a cyclist hit their dog.

A footnote to the release about Guide Dogs' campaign vilifying cyclists, however, admits:

"Through social media we invited blind and partially sighted to fill in a Survey Monkey. 33 of those who responded were guide dog owners from London, 42% of those have been involved in a collision with a cyclist 76% have had a near miss (defined as where they have narrowly avoided a collision)."

42 percent of 33 is 13.86, which indicates a) it's really stupid to turn such small numbers into percentages even if it does make your wholly useless survey look all sciencey and b) as I mentioned above, this whole campaign is based on just 14 people complaining.

Think about that. London is home to between 8 and 15 million people depending on how you count them and how you define 'London'. You could pick any two random groups of people among that vast population, ask one if it had had problems with the other, and get 14 complaints. Ask Lithuanian redheads if they'd had bad experiences with German shepherd dog owners, and I bet you'd get 14 tales of woe.

Can you imagine the response you'd get if you asked people with "strong views" about, say, immigrants to fill in a survey?

And they're not just complaining about something that happened recently. Guide Dogs does not appear to have set a time scale on its trawl for trouble, so those incidents could have happened any time in the last couple of decades.

By sloshing around its deeply dubious numbers, Guide Dogs was able to get all sorts of people who should know better on board with its anti-cyclist campaign.

Here's Charlie Lloyd from the London Cycling Campaign for example:

 

 

And Lib Dem group leader on the London Assembly - and cyclist - Caroline Pidgeon:

 

Lloyd said: "I don’t know if it was a stitch up or a cock. The absurd casualty stats were quickly withdrawn."

That may be true, but by then it was too late. Stories like the Evening Standard's had been written, and what corrections were made were minimal, and usually at the end of stories.

As for London Cycling Campaign supporting a the campaign, it's hard to say they weren't very naive in failing to see how the story would be told in the mass media.

"Our involvement was based on the fact that there is a real issue with the way some cyclists intimidate pedestrians," Lloyd told me in an email. 

"The other consideration is that many in the Guide Dogs movement wish to block some of the infrastructure that will help make London safer for cycling.

"They have strong opposition to floating bus stops, even though there are thousands of them across the UK where old style footway based cycle routes pass bus stops. We think it is worth while working with blind people to discover the best design for floating bus stops in London."

A common threat

What's deeply troubling about this sorry tale is that Guide Dogs chose to target another group of vulnerable road users instead of taking on the source of risk to all: bad drivers and London's abysmal road system.

Road traffic danger limits everyone's mobility, and its main source is motor vehicles. But Guide Dogs doesn't have the gonads to say that London's awful roads keep partially sighted people from getting out and about, because like everyone in their position they think of traffic as being like weather: it just happens and nothing can be done about it.

Far easier then, to go after cyclists, knowing that the mass media won't question that "irresponsible cyclists" are "smashing into blind Londoners" than to demand London's roads be organised for the convenience of people rather than motor vehicles.

Lazy, lazy campaigning, with the wrong target.

84 user comments

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Lies, damned lies and statistics. That I get.

Cyclists slagging both each other and motorists on a thread about the blind and cyclists. That I don't get.

Forum rudeness is for the weak - pity them.

posted by Eebijeebi [84 posts]
29th August 2014 - 12:10

4 Likes

They are talking about this on More or Less on R4 now

Ride in Oxford? Come and join the Cowley Road Condors cycling club, Oxford's friendliest cycling club!

tom_w's picture

posted by tom_w [117 posts]
29th August 2014 - 15:32

3 Likes

tom_w wrote:
They are talking about this on More or Less on R4 now

Just caught it. They talked about the dodgy stats and GDFtB ability to work out percentages and even questioned the BBCs willingness to broadcast un-qualified stats without checking them.

Did Nightrider 2013 and 2014 for Parkinson's UK. Might just have one last go in 2015.

jova54's picture

posted by jova54 [628 posts]
29th August 2014 - 15:46

6 Likes

Hello? Is this the Daily Mail forum? No? Wow, you do surprise me.

posted by darren13366 [56 posts]
29th August 2014 - 15:51

5 Likes

Picked this up on R4 on the way home. Read the stuff and examined the stats for myself.

Cancelled my DD to this charity.

My mum was blind but I know she hated lying and deception more than being blind. I am also a bit 'miffed' now about having taken part in sponsored charity events (running and cycling) to raise money to have this manufactured as a problem.

So lets find a true stat; how much money do cyclists raise for charity? How much money do cyclists save charities by not becoming dependent upon their services?

I'll happily reinstate my DD when some idiot publicly accepts the harm they've done by this and does the decent thing and steps down or someone (or PR company) is dismissed for this debacle.

MikeF

posted by msfergus [21 posts]
29th August 2014 - 17:13

5 Likes

There has been some added preamble here
( http://www.guidedogs.org.uk/cycleyes )

Quote:

We apologise if we have offended any cyclists during this campaign launch. A small number of cyclists have voiced their concerns over the size of the survey. Our survey was primarily to obtain case studies for our campaign and gather some specific stories from those who have been hit or had a near miss from a cyclist.

We have always clearly stated that we know the vast majority of cyclists are responsible. This campaign reaches out to them to encourage the whole cycling community all road users in London to look out for blind and partially sighted pedestrians.

Of course, size was not the only issue, the method (survey of people that already have strong views) , and stoking up of the press were the real problems. GDFTB also actively campaigns to prohibit cyclists from shared spaces (whilst encouraging fund-raising via cycling). I wouldn't dream of cycling (nor walking for that matter) close to someone that appears blind.

posted by ydrol [27 posts]
29th August 2014 - 17:39

6 Likes

IanD wrote:
drfabulous0 wrote:
truffy wrote:

Yet there are some tossers on road.cc who seem to think that all motorists are as guilty as each other.

Funny ol' world, innit?

Guess that makes me a tosser then. The way I see it if you're driving a car with no passengers, using a car for a journey under 8 miles, using your phone while driving even with a hands free, travelling at or slightly over the limit, driving any 4wd vehicle on the road, parking in the bike lane or on the footpath or any number of things which are legal and accepted then YOU ARE THE PROBLEM!!

On your bike mate!

Your quote as it stands does indeed fully qualify you. Perhaps you might want to reconsider it as you have failed to allow for disabled car drivers who certainly can't ride a bike '8' miles (wherever that figure came from).

They are actually a group of car users who share many common problems with cyclists.

Oh, and thanks for tarring me and many of us here on road.cc with your brush. Nice to know I'm a problem when driving, but suddenly turn in to a wonderful being when riding one of my bikes. Perhaps I should get a halo I can wear on my bike to make sure everyone realises how great cyclists are and how detestable almost everyone else is...

I'm afraid you missed the point somewhat, I am not pointing the finger at individuals. Any of the behaviours I mentioned are not a big deal in isolation, it's the numbers involved that cause the problems. Numbers so large that poor practice is considered the norm. The situation would be greatly improved if drivers accepted a collective responsibility for the conditions on the road, and that has to start on an individual level. It's like sitting in your car complaining about the traffic you're stuck in, you are that traffic. Seriously if every car you see with only one person in it had two people think how much more pleasant the roads would be.

I'm not claiming cyclists are saints, the proportion of dickheads is roughly the same on all forms of transport, sadly this seems to be >80%. By all means wear a halo if it makes you feel better, it's probably just as much use as a plastic bike hat.

I also disagree that my comment qualifies me as a tosser, I was already qualified due to my usual behaviour, demeanor and personality.

posted by drfabulous0 [403 posts]
29th August 2014 - 17:55

6 Likes

oozaveared wrote:
And you did know that, "late amber" or otherwise, driving through an amber light is an offence? Right? The Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions 2002 36(1) only with a slight caveat about emergency stops.

This is true, but its also a law that seems to have been totally abandoned, as whizzing through on amber (and just after, on red) is pretty much universal behaviour now.

(Also - was there not a rule about not entering junctions when your exit wasn't clear? These days drivers seem eager to get into the junction come what may, so as a matter of course end up stuck in a traffic jam blocking both the pedestrian crossing and the other axis of motor trafffic)

posted by FluffyKittenofT... [746 posts]
29th August 2014 - 18:00

4 Likes

Be a bit of a shame if this leads to a thousand-year-feud between generations of cyclists and guide-dog-users! Not least as we all know who will get the better PR.

It was a rubbish 'survey' that was misrepresented in a way that would doubtless increase petrohead animosity towards cyclists and hence cause more accidents than it prevented.

But it was just one mistake. There must be some common-ground* that can be found, as clearly the safer it is to cycle on roads and the more dedicated infrastructure the fewer obnoxious scrotes who will be whizzing around on pavements.

* though possibly not shared-space.

posted by FluffyKittenofT... [746 posts]
29th August 2014 - 18:03

4 Likes

ydrol wrote:
Of course, size was not the only issue, the method (survey of people that already have strong views) , and stoking up of the press were the real problems.

Yes. As a professional researcher there are a few things wrong with this:

1) Confirmation bias: the folks thinking there was an issue in the first place, so went looking for it.

2) Sample bias: the folks deliberately asked the very people interested in the issue, rather than a wider sample that's representative of the population of blind people.

3) Question bias: this is conjecture but if they're not professional researchers and they're using Survey Monkey, they're writing their own questions. Which means it's likely the questions were leading and not neutral.

4) Margin of error. With a population of 41,000, and a total of 33 effective respondents (guide dog owners in London), the margin of error is 17%.

The findings of the survey, then, are that somewhere between 8 and 42% of guide dog owners in London who have strong views on cyclists have had their guide dog hit by a cyclist. To be honest this is probably fairly true.

posted by Gordy748 [98 posts]
29th August 2014 - 18:36

6 Likes

Grizzerly
Some of us live in places where a 4x4 is sensible, I'm guessing you are referring to people driving them in towns / cities. I quite agree with the rest of your rant!

posted by Sit at the back... [17 posts]
29th August 2014 - 18:51

2 Likes

Sit at the back and be quiet wrote:
Grizzerly
Some of us live in places where a 4x4 is sensible, I'm guessing you are referring to people driving them in towns / cities. I quite agree with the rest of your rant!

I could concede that if it was farmers driving around in old Defenders, however the most common cars I encounter when riding in the countryside are Audi Q7, BMW X5 and Porsche Cayenne, very sensible.

posted by drfabulous0 [403 posts]
29th August 2014 - 19:28

7 Likes

drfabulous0 wrote:
Sit at the back and be quiet wrote:
Grizzerly
Some of us live in places where a 4x4 is sensible, I'm guessing you are referring to people driving them in towns / cities. I quite agree with the rest of your rant!

I could concede that if it was farmers driving around in old Defenders, however the most common cars I encounter when riding in the countryside are Audi Q7, BMW X5 and Porsche Cayenne, very sensible.

That's life in Cheshire's Golden Triangle. The huge 4 x 4 appears to be compulsory.

Crosshouses's picture

posted by Crosshouses [216 posts]
29th August 2014 - 21:01

3 Likes

LOL, precisely the countryside I was refering to.

posted by drfabulous0 [403 posts]
29th August 2014 - 21:05

1 Like

This is surely one of these "Zombie statistics" that are going to be flying around for years to come like "The NHS is the third biggest employer in the world". Except it will be very damaging to us. Grrr.

Philosphical question. If a cyclist jumps a curb in the dark without lights and no 4x4 drivers see it, did it happen?

posted by barbarus [34 posts]
29th August 2014 - 21:05

7 Likes

drfabulous0 wrote:
LOL, precisely the countryside I was refering to.

Isn't the definition of "Countryside" killing a Porsche Cayenne driver?

(Apologies to Stephen Fry)

posted by SteppenHerring [230 posts]
29th August 2014 - 21:06

7 Likes

Only if you do it with hounds and horses.

posted by drfabulous0 [403 posts]
29th August 2014 - 21:16

2 Likes

Regardless of Journos bullshit, watch out for peds - blind or otherwise.

posted by Beaufort [184 posts]
29th August 2014 - 21:20

3 Likes

"By sloshing around its deeply dubious numbers, Guide Dogs was able to get all sorts of people who should know better on board with its anti-cyclist campaign."

Surely, John Stevenson, the big lie is that this is an "anti-cycling campaign". Guide Dogs London is calling for separation of pedestrians and cyclists, just as many cyclists call for separation between bikes and cars (but aren't per se anti-car).

Granted the Guide Dogs London survey was shoddy and that particular branch of that particular charity is not representative of the majority of blind and visually impaired people either (only a tiny fraction of whom use guide or assistance dogs).

But much more representative is the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB). And if you check out their On My Street campaign resource page, you'll see they take a dim view of pedestrian space being given up to cyclists (when we should be taking over more of the space currently dedicated to motor vehicles). http://www.rnib.org.uk/campaigning-campaign-resources/my-street

It is good though, John Stevenson, that you put in a link to Action for Blind People which states: "There are almost two million people in the UK living with sight loss." (Access Economics, 2009).

It is predicted that by 2020 the number of people with sight loss will rise to over 2,250,000. By 2050, the number of people with sight loss in the UK will double to nearly four million.
https://www.rnib.org.uk/knowledge-and-research-hub/key-information-and-s...

Don't you agree that our future plans for cycling infrastructure should take these 4,000,000 people into account?

posted by creakywheel [2 posts]
30th August 2014 - 18:51

3 Likes

Grizzerly / drfabulous
Just been shifting a bunch of, extremely heavy, welding gear in my Land Cruiser. Is that OK?

posted by Sit at the back... [17 posts]
31st August 2014 - 17:48

1 Like

Sit at the back and be quiet wrote:
Grizzerly / drfabulous
Just been shifting a bunch of, extremely heavy, welding gear in my Land Cruiser. Is that OK?

Depends.....does it have wooden seats?

posted by drfabulous0 [403 posts]
31st August 2014 - 19:11

0 Likes

Sit at the back and be quiet wrote:
Grizzerly / drfabulous
Just been shifting a bunch of, extremely heavy, welding gear in my Land Cruiser. Is that OK?

Eddy Merkx would have put the gear in a rucksack and cycled

posted by SideBurn [873 posts]
31st August 2014 - 19:13

1 Like

I'd have used my Bakfiets, but not everyone has legs like mine Wink

posted by drfabulous0 [403 posts]
31st August 2014 - 19:14

0 Likes

drfabulous0 wrote:
Sit at the back and be quiet wrote:
Grizzerly / drfabulous
Just been shifting a bunch of, extremely heavy, welding gear in my Land Cruiser. Is that OK?

Depends.....does it have wooden seats?

WTF ?
I'm starting to despair of these discussions.
There seem to be a lot of sanctimonious people out there making glib and ill considered remarks.

posted by Sit at the back... [17 posts]
31st August 2014 - 23:55

0 Likes

comment removed

vorsprung's picture

posted by vorsprung [295 posts]
1st September 2014 - 11:12

0 Likes

What next I ask?

A cyclist ate my baby?

Roadie grooming ring smashed in Richmond Park?

I watch the Daily Mails front page with growing horror.

posted by MKultra [285 posts]
1st September 2014 - 15:46

1 Like

Sit at the back and be quiet wrote:
drfabulous0 wrote:
Sit at the back and be quiet wrote:
Grizzerly / drfabulous
Just been shifting a bunch of, extremely heavy, welding gear in my Land Cruiser. Is that OK?

Depends.....does it have wooden seats?

WTF ?
I'm starting to despair of these discussions.
There seem to be a lot of drunk people out there making glib and sarcastic remarks.

FTFY

posted by drfabulous0 [403 posts]
2nd September 2014 - 20:24

0 Likes

Not entirely related, but I did once see a cyclist knock a blind person flying - and they just carried on riding. Single worst thing I've ever seen a 'fellow' cyclist do.

Ghedebrav's picture

posted by Ghedebrav [1101 posts]
5th September 2014 - 20:43

0 Likes

creakywheel wrote:
It is predicted that by 2020 the number of people with sight loss will rise to over 2,250,000. By 2050, the number of people with sight loss in the UK will double to nearly four million.
https://www.rnib.org.uk/knowledge-and-research-hub/key-information-and-s...

Don't you agree that our future plans for cycling infrastructure should take these 4,000,000 people into account?

That's unnecessarily divisive.

How about we take into account the people who live in our cities (and villages) when we plan how those cities are laid out, and their transport infrastructure?

Rather than, as is now, just the cars.

posted by jacknorell [572 posts]
5th September 2014 - 21:35

0 Likes

So how many visually compromised people don't feel safe outside because of motor traffic and how many a year killed or injured by whizzing metal boxes with fat angry bees rattling about inside?

I presume in the interests of fairness and in order to present a credible and comprehensive picture of life with this disability that this information is to follow?

Disappointed. I did a 3 mile walk for GDFB when I was a 6 year old kid. Can I get my £5 charity cash back?!

Hating our selfish and ignorant car culture

posted by ironmancole [191 posts]
5th September 2014 - 23:29

1 Like