Sunday, January 15, 2012

Darned Tricky Numbers

Sometimes people wonder what kind of people want to write for the lefty bed-wetting press. Why would such a talented person want to "give" so much of themselves, taking a low salary just so they can speak truth to power? Those guys must be VERY good people....

Or perhaps they are just another idiot who got some fraudulent "______ Studies" major. And so they never learned how to calculate percentages or hold a real job. Now they blame the system for how much their little lefty lives suck.

An example:

Survey: Illegal Corporate Campaign Contributions Up 400%

By Alex Seitz-Wald on Jan 12, 2012 at 6:41 pm

In 2009, just 1 percent of respondents to National Business Ethics Survey — a large industry study funded by major corporations like Walmart — said they had witnessed illegal corporate political donations. This year, that number quadrupled to 4 percent. Management-level employees at large, publicly traded companies were most likely to see the illegal activity, with seven percent of senior managers saying they had witnessed it.

If this guy had not majored in International Relations (at Brown, no less, the home of "Studies Studies"), he would know that this is:

(4-1)/1= 3

3 n.e. 4

But of course the actual numbers don't matter. It's the truthiness of the scare tactic that's important.

A complicating factor is that the Dems got FAR more corporate money than the Repubs in 2008. The problem for the left is not that corporations can give money. The problem is that corporations can give money to Republicans. THAT cannot be allowed.

Nod to Chateau


Anonymous said...

I believe (4-1)/1 = 300% (or =3, but in any case not 3%) ?

Anonymous said...

The err is in referring to a percentage change in percentage. Nobody does that unless they're being truthi. It should be just new% - old% = delta%. 4%-1%=3%.

Tom said...

A "business ethics survey"? I wonder how one would determine the margin of error of such a thing. "Yes, Mr. Unknown-survey-person, I saw some illegal sh!t and no, talking about wouldn't hurt my career a bit."

Doing good arithmetic on crappy numbers is much more satisfying than doing bad arithmetic...

Anonymous said...

So would you say it had doubled if it would have gone from 1% to 3%? Since (3-1)/1=2.

Nope. A doubling, as per any reasonable person's definition, is multiplying the original figure by two. Hence, a tripling would be from 1 to 3, and a quadrupling from 1 to 4. Which means that a doubling, as usually understood, is a 100% increase. And a quadrupling is a 300% increase.

I've helped tutor enough Math-for-non-math-people to know that this issue crops up all the time. The sticking point is the 300%, not the definition of "quadrupling".

If you're going to ridicule someone's ideas, definitely doesn't help to point out something they're not doing wrong...

Also, by a mathematician's standards, economics is just as fraudulent a major as "____ Studies." Thankfully I studied econ as well, so I can help correct the misperception.

Dirty Davey said...

Remember that in most cases the headline is not written by the author of the article. So Seitz-Wald quite likely did not write "up 400%" to mean quadrupling.

Andrew said...

Anonymous: and before you ridicule the blogger ridiculing someone, you should read the whole post. Look at the title of the article:

"Survey: Illegal Corporate Campaign Contributions Up 400%"

That is the mistake. Whether you blame the author or the editor depends on whether these people even employ editors anymore. It's gotten really bad.