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Illiteracy not only concerns the written word, it concerns the use of numbers in communications as well.

One of my pet peeves and I see in the print media a lot is “something is three times as small” to mean something was one third the size.

This has been a cold winter here in Canada. I have heard news and weather announcers state that today its twice as cold as yesterday, meaning that yesterday it was –20 and today its –40. (What do they think when yesterday was 0 and today is –10?)

Rick Kitson MBA P.Eng

Construction Project Management
From conception to completion

RE: Numbers


You are most correct in your observations. This numeric illiteracy even has its own terminology: innumeracy.

There was a book with the same title:
Innumeracy : Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Social Consequences
by John Allen Paulos


And now, I found, a website dedicated to the topic as well (http://innumeracy.com/)

Best regards,

Matthew Ian Loew
"Luck is the residue of design."
Branch Rickey

Please see FAQ731-376 for tips on how to make the best use of Eng-Tips Fora.

RE: Numbers

I first came across innumercacy is a wonderful essay by Douglas R. Hofstadter in his book Metamagical Themas:  Questing for the Essence of Mind and Pattern, Basic Books, Inc., 1985.  The title of that particular essay is On Number Numbness..

RE: Numbers

To RDK, "three times as small" is an accepted English expression. So, at least, says the Webster's Collegiate Dictionary. See entry: time. It says, I quote: ... "(2): equal fractional parts of which an indicated number equal a comparative greater quantity <seven times smaller> <three times closer>".

On the "twice as cold" item, you are absolutely right, what would they say if the drop in temperature were from +10 to -10 degrees ? (smile)

RE: Numbers

Twice as cold is a statistical observation and as 85.6% of all statistics are made up then I wouldn't believe it.


RE: Numbers

corus -  I hear that it was 76.7%

RE: Numbers

corus, are you implying there are lies, damd lies and statistics.


eng-tips, by professional engineers for professional engineers

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RE: Numbers

Actually, I think it means 81.15% is the average number of made up statistics.

RE: Numbers

If Y is 7 times smaller than X means that Y=X/7, then when one says that Z is 25% smaller than X they must mean that Z=4X. Is smaller really bigger?

Is 130% larger than X mean 1.3X or 2.3X?
Is 30% larger than X mean .3X or 1.3X?

I try to avoid "smaller," "larger," etc when dealing with multiples or factors. One seventh the size seems much clearer.

In the first episode of The Apprentice, Donald Trump was informed that the women's team has "quadrupled" their money. He then turns to the men and repeats that the women made 400% profit. I'm just a thousandaire, but I would have put the profit at 300%.


RE: Numbers

-20 C = 253 K
-40 C = 233 K

So, if it is -40 today and was -20 yesterday then today is only 92% as warm as yesterday.  That doesn't sound too bad.

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