Friday, March 27, 2009

Numeracy check

Here's a bit of numerical illiteracy that never fails to annoy me and especially seems to infect TV anchors: WIS anchor Dawndy Mercer Plank, dutifully reciting the latest unemployment figures, notes that Allendale County, one of the state's smallest and most rural, continues to have "the highest number of people" out of work at 23.4 percent.

Uh, no.

It's worth repeating - again - that a percentage is a rate, not a number. And while it can be translated to a number, that depends on the size of the underlying base. So a smaller percentage on a larger base can produce a larger number than a larger percentage on a small base - i.e., Allendale.

Plank et al. just need to engage brain before opening mouth -- especially in a state already struggling to educate its population.



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