Dan fights Bad Math!

Posted in math at 11:07 pm by danvk

Inspired by the recent Laffer curve fuss, I’ll be doing my MarkCC imitation tonight, calling out the scourge of bad math wherever it rears its ugly head.

Case number 1: I’m on something of an Alex Haley kick, so I’ve been reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Here’s a passage that jumped out at me:

 Here is an example: a British anthropologist named Dr. Louis S. B. Leakey is displaying some fossil bones—a foot, part of a hand, some jaws, and skull fragments. On the basis of these, Dr. Leakey has said it’s time to rewrite completely the history of man’s origin.
 This species of man lived 1,818,036 years before Christ. And these bones were found in Tanganyika. In the Black Continent.1

How good of Dr. Leakey to be so precise! And here I thought radio-carbon dating was only accurate to about one part in a hundred at best. What year was this written in again? 1964? Well, 1,818,036 + 1,964 = 1,820,000. Something makes me think Alex never learned about significant figures..

Case number 2: This one’s an exercise for the reader, since my tongue is tied. According to The Economist’s Technology Quarterly,

The average installed storage capacity of a Fortune 1000 company grew from 198 terabytes in early 2005 to 680 terabytes in October 2006, according to figures from Deloitte, a consultancy.2

What was different about the Fortune 1000 in early 2005 and October 2006? Why might this claim by incredibly misleading?


  1. Craig said,

    July 17, 2007 at 5:52 pm

    I don’t know how incredible it is, but the type of company could have changed.

  2. Nathan said,

    July 23, 2007 at 1:41 pm

    Craig. He’s talking about a certain company one of the three of us works for. I’ll give you a hint. It’s not Paragon Advising.