Activist math, contaminants and the art of fear

We’ve been sitting on this one for a while because we wanted to see how far it would go. Apparently, our favourite scaremongerer is pretty serious about it so we figured it was time to expose this.

In a poor attempt to scare people about food contamination, Alexandra Morton has created a graph that people might assume shows that farmed salmon is contaminated with PCBs.

Mortoncantdomathgraph

Oooh, scary, right? Two things though.

1) These numbers, as shown in the EU regulation cited by Morton as the source of information for this graph, DO NOT represent ACTUAL amounts of dioxins and PCBs in ANYTHING. They are limits set by the EU on what is a safe amount in those foods. Morton neglects to point this out, giving a false impression.

2) This “41.6” number on Morton’s graph comes out of thin air. The actual limit for salmon and all other fish, as set in the EU document source for the other numbers on the graph, is 6.5.

Check it for yourself, it’s on page 4.

Because 6.5 doesn’t have the sort of shock value Morton was hoping for, she did some of her own math and came up with a greater number, conveniently forgetting to show where in the world this number comes from, and also neglecting to explain that these numbers represent the limits set by the EU, not actual test results.

But that’s all boring, right? Who cares, Morton raises a valid point, a scary story about how farmed salmon are more contaminated, right? Who cares that she just made up a number and misrepresented what her source actually says, she’s just getting the truth out there right? We’re sure someone will comment here saying something like that.

That’s the art of fear in action, and Morton is damn good at it. She starts with a scary story, and then manipulates data to make it look like science is on her side. By the time people like us come along and pull back the curtain, it doesn’t matter because people really want to believe in Oz.

People believe in stories, not facts.

But we’ll keep bringing our readers the facts, in the hopes that they will learn how to pull apart these anti-salmon farming stories and see that they are something much more vulgar: manipulative lies.

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