Gaza Buried in Flour

There is an interesting post on Martin Kramer’s blog regarding how easily misinformation is spread.

“The Boston Globe has just run an op-ed under the headline “Ending the Stranglehold on Gaza.” The authors are Eyad al-Sarraj, identified as founder of the Gaza Community Mental Health Program, and Sara Roy, identified as senior research scholar at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University. The bias of the op-ed speaks for itself, and I won’t even dwell on it. But I do want to call attention to this sentence:

Although Gaza daily requires 680,000 tons of flour to feed its population, Israel had cut this to 90 tons per day by November 2007, a reduction of 99 percent.

You don’t need to be a math genius to figure out that if Gaza has a population of 1.5 million, as the authors also note, then 680,000 tons of flour a day come out to almost half a ton of flour per Gazan, per day.

A typographical error at the Boston Globe? Hardly. The two authors used the same “statistic” in an earlier piece. They copied it from an article published in the Ahram Weekly last November, which reported that “the price of a bag of flour has risen 80 per cent, because of the 680,000 tonnes the Gaza Strip needs daily, only 90 tonnes are permitted to enter.” Sarraj and Roy added the bit about this being “a reduction of 99 percent.”

Note how an absurd and impossible “statistic” has made its way up the media feeding chain. It begins in an Egyptian newspaper, is cycled through a Palestinian activist, is submitted under the shared byline of a Harvard “research scholar,” and finally appears in the Boston Globe, whose editors apparently can’t do basic math. Now, in a viral contagion, this spreads across the Internet, where that “reduction of 99 percent” becomes a well-attested fact.”