George Monbiot Fowls Up on Chlorine Chicken

Guardianista eco-warrior George Monbiot will be in a fowl mood today after he was caught out employing underhand statistical wizardry in an attempt to bash Brexit. Monbiot used his Guardian column to heavily hint that chlorinated chicken could be a factor behind poultry-borne infection rates which he claimed “four and five times higher in North America than in Europe“. He wrote:

“[The Adam Smith Institute] says that figures from the World Health Organisation reveal that salmonella and campylobacter infections there are “not out of line” with rates in the European Union. I checked the source: the WHO study the Adam Smith Institute cited. While the incidence of campylobacter is similar, it shows that the burdens of infection per head of population from the two species of salmonella it analyses – Salmonella typhi and Salmonella paratyphi – are, respectively, four times and five times higher in North America than in Europe. I cannot state that this is caused by chlorinated chicken, as the WHO doesn’t provide such detail. But I can state that the Adam Smith Institute’s claim is false.”

The problem with Monbiot’s wizardry it is nonsense. As the ASI comprehensively demonstrates:

“When you compare developed Western Europe, where we use the farm-to-fork approach, to developed North America, where they mostly chlorine wash at the end, the rates of the two types of salmonella seem higher in the US. But what Monbiot doesn’t report are the actual numbers. Salmonella Paratyphi A and Salmonella Typhi infections are so rare in both subregions that the difference Monbiot highlights is trivial in the context of total infections, which the WHO weights according to the disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) lost to them. The figures are 0.1 and 0.4 DALYs per 100,000 in North America versus 0.02 and 0.09 in Western Europe, respectively. But even those average estimates are misleading: the 95% confidence intervals on those numbers all touch zero, and include the rates of the opposite countries. That is: the stats are statistically insignificant from each other. When you drill down to two such specific sub-figures, relying on imperfect sources, you can’t draw a clear result. It’s like rolling two dice three times and arguing the one with the higher number is loaded: you haven’t got enough data to make that conclusion.”

Monbiot tried to hold out on Twitter, rudely dismissing those who politely pointed out he was wrong:

These rather unfortunate tweets have been deleted and he has now belatedly admitted his mistake:

You can’t just wing it on chlorine chicken, George…

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