Friday, July 23, 2010

Journalists: Maths is hard.

Op ed columnist Richard Cohen published a piece recently ranting about how unimportant algebra is. Apparently it was a republishing of an article from many years back. It was inspired by a California high school student who dropped out of school because she could not pass algebra which the state requires. Cohen goes on to state how he's never used algebra in his life.

Well, just maybe it would be helpful if journalists had a grasp on math or at least weren't so damn lazy. This story from Chicago Public Radio this morning really got my goat.
About a dozen Northwest Indiana legislators received cash [from BP]. The average amount was for $300 to $500.

The reporters had the campaign disclosures from the law makers. All the data for an accurate average calculation were present: (amount of money donated) divided by (the number of legislators receiving cash). It isn't even like they were giving a more complicated number like an arithmetic mean.

I understand for the sake of a story you might round the answer. For example, if the calculation comes out to be $353.87 you might say, "The average amount was for about $350.00." The two hundred dollar range just serves no purpose.


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