Corrections to the blogosphere, the consensus, and the world

Friday, August 10, 2007

Drumbeats

Kevin Drum complains that
BY THE WAY: Am I the only person driven up a tree by newspaper reporters who insist on using "more than four out of ten," "close to a quarter," "nearly three-fifths," and so forth when they write stories like this? I mean, is that even remotely helpful? Is there anyone on the planet who's going to understand terms like that who doesn't also understand a simple percentage? Wouldn't it be more helpful (and more accurate) to present all the numerical data the same way so that it's easier to compare?


Mmmm. When I went through math back in the dark ages I was taught that, yes, there was an important difference between one-fourth and 25% - if you said "25%" you meant "more than 24.5% and less than 25.5%", while if you said "one-fourth" you meant "less than one-third and more than one-fifth"; error bars 13 times as large. And given that one-in-a-hundred accuracy is in practical terms much higher than I would expect of almost any claim in public life I rather prefer the laxer format. The use of percentages seems calculated to attach an unfounded aura of scientificity - as in last night's TV, an ad claiming "seventy percent of Australians are affected by cholesterol"

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