Between the Pundits: Hungry for the truth


I waded into the whole poverty statistics rigmarole a few months back, after a Toronto Star editorial posited that “more than 905,000 across the Greater Toronto Area depended on food banks.” The claim was so outrageous that I hear Joe Atkinson clawed himself out of his own grave, dusted himself off and hopped the first trolley to One Yonge Street to inform his editorialists of the error. And in subsequent efforts, they did treat the figure—which represents the total number of visits to food banks across the GTA, not visitors—with slightly more respect. A “total of 905,000 people visited food banks across the Greater Toronto Area in the past year,” they wrote at Thanksgiving, which is… well, slightly closer to the truth, anyway.

But today, reacting to the Daily Bread Food Bank‘s latest annual report, the Star finally got it right. “Food bank use has risen by 5 per cent in the GTA in the past year to 952,883 visits,” they wrote. Perfect. Alas, the whole thing goes pear-shaped again in the very next sentence, which claims “more than 79,000 people now resort to a food bank every month.” The precise number is 79,407, for the record. I know because I went ahead and divided 952,883 by 12. They’ve more or less repeated the original error, in other words, but they’ve converted it from yearly to monthly form.

(Incidentally, for for future Star editorial use, the DBFB says “this year’s increase is attributed primarily to the opening of two new food banks and reflects Daily Bread’s increased capacity to meet the existing need as opposed to an increase in need.”)


Between the Pundits: Hungry for the truth

  1. Excellent job in fact checking, Toronto Star should be more carefull… now if only someone at Macleans would fact check Mark Steyn now and then! ha ha, argh, uuuugh…

  2. How many times a month does a typical ( is there a typical profile? ) food bank patron visit a food bank and how regularly do they repeat?

    The answer might shed some light on how far off base the notion of dividing visits by 12 is.

  3. “How many times a month does a typical ( is there a typical profile? ) food bank patron visit a food bank and how regularly do they repeat?”

    Those are excellent questions, but answering them would take work. Obviously, the food banks need to track “visits” just to manage their business, but to look at client profiles you’d have pay someone a few tens of thousands of bucks to do a survey, or require the food banks to register theirs users, which doesn’t seem like a good idea.

  4. That 79,000 figure is particularly pernicious, ‘cos it *sounds* like real data. If Selley is right, they were just repackaging data they’d provided in the previous sentence, making it sound like new, more detailed data. Very close to lying.

  5. Very interesting piece, makes me want to read the book again; esp. as I just discovered an Orillia connection in my family.

    Quite a fatuous comment by Robertson Davies, however. “The strong appearance of being the work of a man who will write a novel very soon”! Sunshine Sketches will be read long after Davies’ novels have crumbled to dust.

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