A stunning lack of fact-checking in Denmark

Perhaps surprising to people who consider Denmark either a decadent socialist hell-hole or an enlightened welfare state, there is a robust debate about the welfare state in Denmark, its role, its size, and its effectiveness.

The current government, and most of the parties supporting it, is of the opinion that the welfare state in Denmark is too large and expensive, and that the tax rate is too high, especially for the people with the highest incomes – i.e. those paying the top level tax rate.

I profoundly disagree, even though I am one of those who would benefit from the tax rate being reduced. But that is a subject for another post.

Among the parties supporting the government on this issue, is Liberal Alliance, which is a Libertarian party (or ultra-liberal in the European sense).

One of the members of parliament for that party is also the founder of 180 grader (180 degrees) which is a blogging side for libertarians. 180 grader obviously have a lot of blog posts pushing the party line, and demonizing the welfare state.

One of the people writing at 180 grader is Karina Pedersen, who grew up in a poor neighborhood in a fairly small Danish town (population approximately 50,000 people). Karina Pedersen claimed that the welfare state kept people in poverty and unemployment, drawing on her experiences and referring to her family and old class mates as examples.

Given that Karina Pedersen is a rare case of someone from a poor background criticizing the welfare state, she has been given a lot of space in the public debate though numerous interviews and even a book Helt ude i hampen – mails fra underklassen (hard to translate, but approximately Completely far out – mails from the lower class). The book was published a couple of weeks ago.

The book is supposedly based on some mails that Karina Pedersen has sent to a friend, telling about her experiences, claiming that the “lower class” is lazy and cheating, and shouldn’t be helped by the state. She claimed that there were teen mothers living all over her old neighborhood as a result of the welfare state.

The publications of the book has of course given Karina Pedersen and her views more space in the newspapers, which uncritically published her claims about her experiences from her youth.

Then something interesting happened. A journalist decided to do some fact-checking (link in Danish).

As you might have guessed, it turned out that just about everything that Karina Pedersen had said about her childhood was either impossible to document or outright lies. Her claims about her family and classmates being unemployed were completely wrong, and so where the claims about young teenage mothers (something easily refuted by looking at the birth statistics).

In other words, her book and her claims in numerous interviews, were based upon lies, which a minimum of fact-checking would have uncovered.

Most of the many newspapers that have given Karina Pedersen space have admitted that they haven’t done their work properly, and that they should have done fact-checking and not just trust her claims, even if they had been published in a book.

The publisher of her book, Gyldendal, on the other hand, claims that they haven’t done anything wrong in not fact-checking her book, as it is her impression of her childhood and later life, and not meant to be accurate. This is of course bullshit, as the book contains factual claims about other people, all of which have turned out to be lies. This is not acceptable in a non-fiction book. If Gyldendal thinks this is the case, it is clear that it is not possible to trust the content of any of their non-fiction books.

In other words, one should avoid non-fiction by Gyldendal if you want books that are actually verifiable non-fiction.