It is time to stop quivering in our boots in pointless fear of the future and just roll up our sleeves and build it.
- Ray Pierrehumbert

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Another headslapping error in the press

I'm fascinated by the press's ability to screw up sixth grade arithmetic.

OK, so this one is in real estate:
The house — built during the 1860s and renovated in the late 1990s by a Prague architectural studio — is a 10-minute walk from the village. It has 411 square meters of living space (about 1,350 square feet). Most of the ground floor is taken up by the living room, which runs the length of the building, with a vaulted brick ceiling and a fireplace. (Heated hardwood flooring was installed during the renovation.) The floor tiles in the adjoining kitchen and hallway are original.
Sounds nice, huh?
894,819 EUROS ($1.3 MILLION)
Um, $1.3 million for 1350 sq ft? 

Of course, there are 3.28 feet in a meter, and 3.28 times 411 is 1348. Close enough, right?

Right? Must be a pretty fancy space at nearly $1000 a square foot...

How are we to expect a scientifically literate population when the newspaper of record can't get past counting on its thumbs?

9 comments:

Nosmo said...

Are you surprised? Seems like even in the NY times, at least half the time a graphic is used to convey statistical information it directly contradicts what is written in the article.
Editors and proof readers just don't seem to check math.

King of the Road said...

Thanks Michael. You're becoming a reliable source of material for my periodical "Cornucopia of Cluelessness" post.

crf said...

I think this conversion is done automatically by a machine, rather than a human. The computer may search for a number followed by m or metres or meters, it then multiplies the number by 3.28 and replaces the text 'meters' with 'feet'.

If that is the case, the program should be modified to also look for the text 'square' next to 'meter', then multiply the number by 10.764.

Arthur said...

Ha. I'm a subscriber to REFocus, the magazine of the international solar energy society. For years they would randomly scramble their metric prefixes and have units completely wrong - for example mw and gw instead of MW and GW, and talking about yearly output of power plants in some funny mix of energy and power. I finally wrote them a letter and after some back and forth they finally decided it was important enough to actually pay attention to it in their editing process, it's been much better since.

James Annan said...

Hey, you shouldn't be too hard on them, this stuff IS rocket science

Phil said...

No hope of them ever understanding exponential growth, then!

Dano said...

Yes, journalism is done by humans.

Nonetheless, I bet they sit around at the bar after work and joke about how hard it was to understand that biologist today, and that physicist last week - what a dork! And remember that geologist from UT? That guy couldn't express an idea understandably if you held a gun to his head!!

Best,

D

Michael Tobis said...

Um, maybe so, Dano, but shouldn't they have been on another beat in that case?

I mean, doesn't a million bucks for a thousand square feet raise any flags for you?

Dano said...

It raises a flag for ME, but I'm not a reporter who fawns over nice apartments and glowingly reviews new digs on the Vegas strip with wool carpet and marble and gold plating on the toilet paper holder. Meaning: I'm not blinded by fawning over wealth, so I don't know what that does to people.

Best,

D