CHRISTOPHER J. FALVEY'S


WHERE THE POWER OF REASON SEEMS TO HAVE GONE TO RETIRE










IT'S THE MATH, STUPID
Jan 3, 2005  |  Christopher J. Falvey


As I was watching television news the other night, something came across the screen which always makes my blood boil- but this time it was so clear how inaccurate the story was that I'm still amazed that such a thing could bypass any fact-checker (in all honesty, I don't actually believe television news shows really employ fact checkers, but that's for another article).

Pardon my paraphrasing, as I spent so much time ranting and raving about the piece, that I never did write down the exact wording. However, it was something to the effect of:

"Gas prices are at an all-time high. A gallon of gas, which used to cost 75 cents in 1970, is approaching an unbearable $2.00 per gallon!"

Now here's where you need to imagine me effecting my best Andy Rooney impersonation (which isn't, in reality, all that good- so your imagination will help.)

What really bothers me about reporters, writers, and their so-called subject experts is the complete lack of regard for basic economics and simple math. And I really do mean simple.

Some of these things, I know, are tricks of the trade. There really aren't as many stories of financial disaster or economic abnormality as there is time to fill on the plethora of news and newsmagazine shows out there. So, yeah, sometimes you just have to bend the numbers to squeeze out a good story. But some of these things are truly just plain stupid and ignorant.

So let me, for once and for all, lay out some of the things that, when mentioned in any form of "factual" reporting, completely invalidate said reporting:

 - 1. IGNORING INFLATION - 

Have you ever noticed that you rarely hear the term "in today's dollars" when someone tries to explain how things are much more expensive now than they were in the good ol' days? This, of course, is because things aren't, for the most part, actually more expensive today.

I understand it makes for more interesting conversation to say, for example, that it used to cost $20 to take a family of four to the ballgame, but today it costs over $100. Interesting conversation, maybe. But accurate, no. Anyone with a high-school degree, or anyone who is on speaking terms with someone with a high-school degree, knows that inflation causes the value of money to decrease. So if you're going to compare costs from one year to another, you have to adjust one of the figures.

Of course by doing this you'll come to the conclusion that, for a variety of reasons, things tend to stay the same or become much cheaper over time. Unfortunately, this doesn't make for interesting conversation or exciting news stories.

 - 2. LACK OF UNDERSTANDING OF PER-CAPITA STATISTICS. - 

Every now and then newspapers like to report on the cities with the most murders in a given month or year. It makes sense: people like to know if they're going to get murdered or not, and somehow if their city is not in the list, they're safe, I suppose.

The problem is people like to rank cities on the total number of murders, and never really consider dividing it per-capita. This is a lot of the reason people thing big cities are dangerous: their cozy suburb of 10,000 people may have one murder every few years, but a dangerous city like Chicago has nearly 500 every single year! That's more than one every single day! (It amazes me. People really do think like this.)






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