About That Bogus Pollution Chart the Lebanese Are Sharing
Beirut Spring -
Just because it’s on the internet, doesn’t mean it’s true…
A photo I took in Ghana (where I live), supposedly the most polluted country in the world

There is so much sloppiness around the internet and Facebook nowadays that one doesn’t bother debunking bogus statistics and “facts”… but when people start sharing and writing about things like the table below, as if it were some scientific research, it is worth doing some digging, because apparently people are too lazy making a political point to care about the truth.


All charts were linking to a website called Numbeo , so I followed the link, and sure enough, Lebanon was on it. But something didn’t feel right. The page’s title is “Pollution Index 2016 Mid Year”, but there’s a small link at the top to access the “current” ranking (more recent than mid-2016 supposedly).

What I saw got me really impressed with Lebanon’s achievement. From mid-2016 to today (euhmm… 70% of 2016), it has managed to completely get out of the list:

Off the list!

So I took a look at their methodology, and this part immediately jumped at me:

Most of our data are based on perceptions (opinions) from visitors of this website.

So, according to the many many people who visit numbeo.com , Lebanon (and Ghana) are the most polluted places in the world (mid-2016, not current). This is not only a small sample (the tiny amount of people who visit that obscure site), but it’s also a measure of “perception”, i.e. what people think the pollution levels are.

But Mustapha, the page also said that they get some pollution information from the World Health Organization. Doesn’t that make it scientific?

So, sure enough, I went to the WHO’s pollution page, and downloaded their database.

First, there are absolutely no records about Ghana (supposedly the world’s most polluted country). Second, here are the only results I found about Lebanon:

The most recent data about Beirut is from 2014, the Annual mean, ug/m3 (more means more air pollution) is very low compared to the top countries on the WHO’s list:

In other words, there are many ways in which the Numbeo figures are bogus.

I’m aware of Lebanon’s trash crisis and of Lebanon’s trash politicians. But I think the lesson we can learn from this bogus chart is that we shouldn’t immediately believe something on the internet just because it’s in line with our biases.

Is it good politically in a fight against the government? Yes. Is it true? Not necessarily.

About That Bogus Pollution Chart the Lebanese Are Sharing was originally published in Beirut Spring on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

read more