Thursday, February 24, 2011

Numeracy Please!

To the editors of Metro,

In Thursday's paper you write that Bloomberg will devote $708 billion to replacing dangerous light fixtures in 772 city schools. Do you have any idea what $708 billion is? The U.S. Department of Defense's 2011 budget is $721.3 billion. If there are 1,000 rooms in every one of the 772 schools, and each room has 100 light fixtures, $708 billion will leave nearly eight million dollars per light fixture. I'm not surprised that Metro's typists made a mistake. I'm surprised that the rest of Metro's staff was so innumerate as to not notice it.

Still a devoted reader,


More on numeracy and large numbers:

If you're ready for something gut-wrenching and also funny on numeracy and small numbers, go here and listen to the audio.


  1. The horrific story about the eight-million dollar light fixtures? Yes.
    My response? Not yet. I just submitted it a few hours ago.

  2. For the uninitiated, "billion" has as much meaning as "zillion."February 24, 2011 at 10:31 PM

    A professor of mine was holding forth how if we weren't in Iraq and Afghanistan, we wouldn't have such a horrible budget crisis at home, because the government would save "half a billion dollars," which could be used to fund education.

  3. I always like trying to put these large unfathomable ideas into ways that perhaps could give me some sort of perspective.

    So for millions, billions and trillions its as follows:
    1,000,000 seconds=11.8~ days
    1,000,000,000=32~ years

    so far the cost of the wars in the middle east have cost the US over 1 trillion dollars, more than the cost of WWI and WWII (apparantl) combined.

  4. Did you listen to the audio clip? It's horrible and delightful at the same time.

  5. Let us know if Metro responds, I don't read their paper.
    I'm listening to the audio, it is pretty funny in that painful way.

  6. In today's paper they wrote, "A brief in Thursday's Metro should have read $708 million is being spent by the city to replace light fixtures in city schools that contain PCBs."


Forth shall ye all hold.