Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Big Wiener and Bad Math


My news obsession has been addressed in this blog before. Come to think of it, so has my disappointment with non-news items portrayed as real news. Yesterday brought a new layer of irritation to my short attention span: the combination of non-news and bad math. All day long I pondered why this trend isn't being questioned much at normal Joe level, where we can all agree on the math.  

It all began with a really big wiener dog. Saying "weiner dog" instead of dachshund is one of the few things that consistently makes me feel younger...like six, maybe. Retinol cream can't come close to those numbers.

Think tanks and opposing political parties attack statistics and studies like a blood sport. It's become less of a numbers game and more of a numbers war, as "lies and statistics" are frequently grouped in the same sentence. Mention unemployment rates, the economy, or global warming and then jump back, if you value your life! Seriously, this is understandable. Big issues, big numbers, multiple interpretations, ulterior motives - they all add up to big emotions. And the math heads jump on those numbers with smoke rising from their calculators.

As I watched the televised morning news, the most important thing that happened yesterday was that a 77 lb. weiner dog named Obie lost weight (NEWS!). In case you missed it, and I don't see how that would have happened, this was the hard hitting news of Monday.  

Then the announcer gave the stats:  Obie had lost half his weight!  Half? Wow! That is pretty good, even if it was a totally captive animal on a leash held in a small area whose only source of liquids and sustenance sprang forth from a third party...but,yeah!  Obie is a go-getter! Good work. Obie lost 54 lbs. 

Wait a minute. Since when is 54 half of 77?  Clearly, it's more like 70%. Someone is short changing old Obie. Check out the Today Show link (no, no, no, go back and click on the words "Today Show"...must I hold your hand?). 

I can see why the public is confused by government stats, they're not meant to enlighten - they're just hanging around to keep the conversation going till next election. But Average Joe - you can calculate half, right? Basic math, peeps.

What about simple (really simple) Geometry or spatial relations? 

While reading an article on hummingbirds (NEWS!), the author stated that hummingbirds' nests are the same size as a thimble...then gave the measurements of 1" by 2". For crying out loud, who has a finger that is two inches wide? Did I flip the numbers? You're saying there's a seamstress out there that has a finger that is one inch wide? Go get a ruler right now and hold it up to your finger. GO!

And that, ladies and gentlemen, was the news for Bad Math Monday.  

[Anyone know where those Nigerian girls are today? Kidnapped Israeli teenagers? Missing plane MH370 out there somewhere?]


5 comments:

  1. FACT: 4 out of 5 doctors recommend Shady Dell Music & Memories as a sure cure for the blues!

    Good morning, dear Cherdo! Thank you for playing to my "strength" (as if I really have one) - the topic of news. My dear friend, I don't want to embarrass you in front of your readers, but you are making a mountain out of a molehill. Cute, cuddly animals ARE news and SHOULD be the lead story of every newscast! For that matter, why wait for the designated news hour? I vividly recall Walter Cronkite interrupting an episode of Bewitched (the classic "Dick York years") to bring us the breaking news that Mrs. Jones' cow had given birth and that both mother and calf were both doing just fine. :)

    Sad but true: very few champion mathletes go on to become news anchors or reporters and their inability to slice a weiner dog in half or to convert inches to centimeters are THIMBLES of their incompetence. My only concern is that they get it right when reporting Brooklyn Decker's measurements. :)

    Happy Tuesday to you, dear friend Cherdo!

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  2. My brother always had trouble with math when we went halfsies on things. Maybe he missed his calling?

    87.5% of brother memories utilize made up statistical data, I'm told. But I'm no expert!

    Everyone go see what is happening at Shady Dell Music & Memories while we still have "free" speech, ha ha.

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  3. Since I started freelance writing, I've learned a few things about statistics. Businesses are paying big $$ for hard data and sometimes they work it in a way that works for them. They'll hire a firm to survey 10 people and 7 of them will say something and now the statistic is, "70% of those surveyed say..." It's kind of disturbing! Sometimes you also hear a newsy item that's something like, "23% of those surveyed say..." You don't even realize the number is only 23%. That's not much at all, but many people breeze right past the number and assume it must be a lot.

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  4. Stephanie, I used to work in QI/QA. Tracking down original studies really opened my eyes.

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  5. Why is Carson Daly on Today? I haven't watched the show in a while. Did Carson replace Katie and Matt and Ann and Al and the old weather man who wishes a happy birthday to someone who is 197 because he can't read the teleprompter? The Hurricane is a mathematician, so I know that when mathematics reaches a certain level, it can become pretty abstract (she's into algebraic geometry). But the dachshund and the 50% thing makes me want to go back to bed and it's 1:41 p.m. Oh, yeah. Definitely a good time to go back to bed.

    Love,
    Janie

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Thanks for your personal yada, yada, yada,
Love, Cherdo