Andreu’s blog

Misleading headline: A town in Japan spent Covid relief funds on a giant squid statue

Check out the article in The New York Times supposedly about a town in Japan that spent Covid relief funds on a giant squid statue (Try opening link in private window if you end up in a paywall).

The headline does not state it, but you can be lead to believe that the town used all of its Covid relief funds on the statue. That is not true. If you bother to read to the end of the article, you will notice that while the statue costed $230,000, the relief founds amounted to $6.2 million. So the town used about 4% of the funds on the statue, and that was after they had spent about $2.5 million on infection control measures in a place that has recorded fewer than 30 coronavirus cases since the pandemic began.

According to the Wikipedia, Noto, the town in question, has a population of 18,000. Towns of similar size in Spain have had more Covid cases than Noto every week for months. Not total, every week. Orders of magnitude worse. What seems curious to me, is that a town that apparently was managing Covid very well, had need for the relief funds at all. This again can be a bad interpretation, since relief from Covid can be used to fight the disease itself or the consequences of the disease on the economy. It seems that the town was doing the later as well, since it used $1.3 million to promote local businesses and employment (besides the squid statue).

The statue does not seem so odd in the context of promoting local businesses. There is a certain tradition for erecting statues of local produce all around the world, not only in Japan. Benicarló, the home town of my wife, for example, is a renewed producer of artichoke so they decided to erected a statue of a giant one.

Sculpture of a giant artichoke in Benicarló

Sculpture of a giant artichoke in Benicarló. Image by Google Maps

A more intriguing possibility is that whoever decided to build the sculpture is truly media savvy. Maybe him or herself tipped the press about the sculpture. I bet that few people knew about Noto and its connection to squids or where do squids they buy come from. Now many do. I can’t think of any other campaign that would have such a broad impact.

Writing about how a small town in Japan was managing Covid quite well, got some extra Covid funds and used most of them sensibly does not make for exciting headlines. Twisting the plot to make it seem like someone is bizarrely wasting public money, does. Maybe the kind of nonsense that journalists write is becoming so predictable that knowledgeable people will start abusing it. If newspapers are going to write nonsense anyway, why not prompt them in useful ways?

Last updated: 2021-05-09