Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Innumerates at the NY Times

The NY Times science reporters have a good knowledge of science, but those who report on American Idol cannot do arithmetic. The NY Times reported:
According to Nielsen estimates released by Fox, the two-hour finale drew 28.8 million viewers, easily the largest audience for the night. But that number is down more than 3 million from last year’s finale (which drew 31.7 million), and the broadcast is likely to rank as the second-lowest-rated season finale of “American Idol” in the show’s history, ...
No. 31.7 minus 29.8 is 2.9, so the number of views is down less than 3 million, not more.

You would think that if a newspaper article has a sentence with three numbers, and if two of the numbers are supposed to add up to the third number, then the copy editor would check that the numbers really add up.

Another NY Times article complains about how the Christian singer (Kris Allen) beat the gay singer (Adam Lambert):
Representatives of AT&T helped fans of Mr. Allen at the two Arkansas events by providing instructions on how to send 10 or more text messages at the press of a single button, known as power texts. Power texts have an exponentially greater effect on voting than do single text messages or calls to the show’s toll-free phone lines.
No, there is no "exponentially greater effect". It just multiplies by 10.

The contest got about 100 million votes. Obviously people were voting multiple times. Is it really newsworthy that some phone company salesman in Arkansas told a few people how to cast multiple votes? People were casting multiple votes all over the country. They should have had some mechanism for rejecting blocks of votes. Maybe they did, I don't know. But it seems ridiculous to pick on a few fans in Arkansas, and innumerate to confuse multiplication with exponentiation.

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