Fun With Numbers Politics Uncategorized

Not 2 + 2 = 5, but close

In which a statistic makes it from a writer, to the new york times, to a greenpeace blog, apparently without anyone noticing that it was mathematically impossible. I’m not exaggerating for effect.

1% of 20 is .2 (not 1.3 nor 1.6)

Among the many things Michael Specter talks about in his new book Denialism, is that fact that numeracy (the mathmatical equivalent of literacy) is no longer prized in todays society.

Case in point:

BP, for example, puts $1.3 billion to $1.6 billion a year into alternative energy projects. That’s about 1 percent of the company’s total $20 billion investment this year in future business prospects.*

I was going to beat up on the greenpeace blog where I read this sentence, but on a closer rereading I realized it was actually a direct quote from this article on the New York Times website. Come on people, 1% is easy, all you do is move the decimal place, you don’t even have to divide or multiply. Now there could be some obscure accounting reason that regular math doesn’t apply here, but if so it should have been mentioned and it wasn’t.

Now I don’t know if this is sloppy journalism or a typo or what, but at least three people (the author of the piece, the editor at the new york times, and the greenpeace press officer to copied and pasted 1.5 sentences of the article including that fundamentally impossible statistic) looked at it and didn’t realize that something was obviously wrong.

Typos can happen to anyone (I make plenty of them myself), but one this obvious shouldn’t be able to make it past three sets of eyes without someone catching it.

For the record I’m not trying to defend the publicity campaigns of oil companies here. (If you feel your blood pressure is too low I recommend watching one of the “We Call It Life” ads about carbon dioxide.)

*1.3 to 1.6  billion dollars is clearly not 1% of 20 billion. It’s 6.5% or 8% respectively. Not 2 + 2 = 5 but 2 + 2 = 32 and apparently 26 at the same time

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