Cod on fishing boat

Take care with your wording

“Just 100 cod left in North Sea”

In September 2012 the ‘Daily Telegraph’ website ran a story with a rather astonishing headline: “Just 100 cod left in North Sea”. Actually, there are around 437 million cod in that body of water. What happened? The answer is a lesson in being precise with your vocabulary.

The original story came from the ‘Sunday Times’, which had reported that an analysis of catches at North Sea ports across Europe in 2011 found no cod over the age of 13. Using statistical sampling techniques, it was calculated that this must mean fewer than 100 such fish exist (otherwise one would have been caught). The finding was reported under the headline of “Only 100 adult cod in North Sea” – but what constitutes a mature cod?

You’d assume from the story that it was any fish over the age of 13; however, cod reach full sexual maturity around the age of six. According to the government, there are more than 21 million such fish in the North Sea. It all comes down what you classify as an ‘adult’, or ‘mature’, fish.

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Questions for discussion

  • Can you find examples of other headlines that are misleading because of the words used (or those left out)?

About this resource

This resource was first published in ‘Number Crunching’ in June 2013.

Statistics and maths
Number Crunching
Education levels:
16–19, Continuing professional development, Undergraduate