This post is about the laziness of journalists and how basic arithmetic skills have gone AWOL in the 21st Century – it is brought to you by the ever informative site Bad Science where the ability to perform some simple sums remains in place.
Some of you may have read this story which was splashed all over our meejah outlets this week, with the headline “British forces in Afghanistan seize £50m of heroin and kill 20 Taliban”.
So far so good, but let us take a look at the MOD press release where the figure of £50 million heroin is first used and read on more carefully than all of the UK press. The army seized 1,260 Kg of opium which if processed could make around 130 Kg of pure heroin which (if sold in Afghanistan) would fetch around $250,000.
Not quite £50 million is it? Ben then goes on to calculate that if you took the street price in the UK and were cutting the heroin down to 30% of pure you might end up with a figure of £20 million – but Johnny Taliban is not running a major retail operation across the UK.
All pretty simple straightforward calculations that you would like to think our journalists would have performed after reading all of the press release. Alas this was not the case, the £50 million figure crops up in the 2nd paragraph of the press release and everyone ran with that.
It all goes to prove that you cannot believe the figures that you read in the media when their source is a government press release; and that you cannot rely on the media to read the press release and then carry out some basic calculations to verify any figures claimed in there.