Monday, January 24, 2005

Numeracy at the Times

Daniel Okrent writes with clarity about numeracy problems at the New York Times in his Sunday column.

An excerpt:

One of the appealing things about the complaints I receive about innumeracy at The Times is their ecumenical origin; when it comes to how it handles numbers, The Times is an equal opportunity offender. Like a bad cough that spreads its germs indiscriminately, numbers misapplied and ill-explained irritate the sensibilities of the right and the left, the drug company official and the animal rights activist, the art collector and the Jets fan.

Number fumbling arises, I believe, not from mendacity but from laziness, carelessness or lack of comprehension. I'll put myself in the latter category (as some readers no doubt will as well, after they've read through my representation of the numbers that follow). Most of the journalists I know who enter the profession comfortable with numbers write about sports, where debate about the meaning of statistics is a daily competition, or economics, a field in which interpretation of numbers will no more likely produce inarguable results than will finger painting.

So it is left to the rest of us who write for the paper to stumble through numbers, scatter them on the page and hope that readers understand.

Good stuff.


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