Category Archives: Storytime

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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Storytime: the Chicken Farmer

Today we want to tell a story to make a point.

This is how the story goes.

FV_chicken_barn

Once upon a time, there lived a chicken farmer. He built a chicken farm in the Fraser Valley to grow chickens to sell to grocery stores in Vancouver. His farm was next door to a bird sanctuary.

The farmer believed he had the best of both worlds. He could raise his animals and support his family right next to the beautiful bird sanctuary, which he and his family loved to explore on lazy summer days. His children grew up knowing all about farming, and thanks to their regular treks through the bird sanctuary, they also grew up knowing all about wild birds.

Life was good, until one day, when the farmer left the house to go do his morning chores, he saw something new.

A crowd of angry people were on the road outside his front gate, waving signs and shouting. Puzzled, he went to his gate to see what was the matter.

When the people saw the farmer approaching, they shouted louder.

“Stop killing wild birds!” shouted one person.

“Get out of our public airshed!” shouted a second person.

“All you care about is making money!” shouted a third.

The farmer tried to talk to the crowd, try to understand why they were so upset and to explain that his farm wasn’t doing anything wrong. But every time he tried to talk the crowd shouted louder and drowned out his words. Eventually he gave up and went back to doing his morning chores, hoping the crowd would go away. They did.

That evening, when the farmer sat down to dinner with his family, he turned on the evening news. He was surprised to see his farm and the angry crowd on the TV. The interviewer focused on an old man, who was soft-spoken and had a kind face. The farmer recognized him as the old man who lived up the road. They had once been friends, but recently the old man had taken to criticizing everything the chicken farmer did on the farm, watching with binoculars and regularly phoning the authorities with bogus claims of wrong-doing.

Now, the old man was on TV talking like he was an expert on chicken farming, and claiming that diseases from the chicken farm were going to spread to the nearby bird sanctuary and kill the wild birds.

The chicken farmer was flabbergasted. No one from the TV station had tried to talk to him. He phoned the news desk to complain, and was offered a follow-up interview the next day.

When the TV crew arrived the next morning, the chicken farmer was proud to show them around his farm and explain how he kept his birds safe and healthy. After they left, he felt good about the interview and couldn’t wait to see the evening news.

That evening, when he sat down to dinner with his family, he turned on the evening news and saw his farm and the angry crowd again. He was dismayed to see that after all the time he spent with the TV crew, only a few brief seconds of his interview and only a few images of his farm were used in the story, which ended with a new, lengthy criticism from the old man up the road.

The angry crowd and camera crews came and went for weeks. One day the old man found a dead bird in the bird sanctuary near the farm fence, and claimed it must have died because of the chicken barn. The chicken farmer started getting angry phone calls from people in Vancouver, blaming him for killing wild birds.

Another day, the old man brought his angry crowd and the camera crew to a grocery store where the chicken farmer’s chickens were sold. The old man and the angry crowd told everyone not to buy the chicken, because it was bad and killed wild birds. The chicken farmer got more angry phone calls from people in Vancouver. None of them ever bothered to ask for his side of the story.

Another day, the old man claimed to have found diseases in dead birds inside the sanctuary which could have only come from the chicken farm. On camera, he offered several badly decomposed bird carcasses as proof. When the farmer was able to get on camera to explain that his chickens were healthy, and that detailed information about their health was available on the government’s agriculture website, nobody listened.

One day, when he went out to do his morning chores, the chicken farmer saw the old man standing by his front gate with a camera crew, but no angry crowd. The chicken farmer decided to go see what the old man wanted.

“Give me some of your chickens to test,” said the old man. “I don’t trust the test results from the government testers.”

 

What do you think the chicken farmer should do?