Numbers In The News

Some notable numbers we have spotted recently

Covid-19 Numbers

If you’re looking for numbers on Covid-19, a very good choice is to head over to Good numbers, good analysis, good visualisations and good interactive tools for exploring the numbers.

Oh, and they cover MUCH more than just Covid-19. Highly recommended.

$267 billion in tariffs. Is That a Big Number?

The Financial Times (7th September 2018) reports that the Trump administration is ready to impose a further $267 in tariffs on imports from China. That’s additional to $200 bn already threatened, and compares to $50 bn already imposed. Read the article, but first, how big is that number?

Well, it’s:-

$817.44 for every person in United States

1.38 % of the GDP in United States

4.24 % of Govt spending in United States


Is That a Big Number? (the book)

Is That a Big Number is now a book, published by Oxford University Press. (Google ISBN  0198821220 to find many online booksellers). Although there is serious purpose behind the book - to explore how we think about numbers and how we can understand big numbers - it’s written in a light and engaging style.

Entertaining, full of practical examples, and memorable concepts, Is That A Big Number? renews our relationship with numeracy. If numbers are the musical notes with which the symphony of the universe is written, and you’re struggling to hear the tune, then this is the book to get you humming again.


Where is Starman now?

In Feb 2018, the SpaceX corporation launched the “heavy” configuration of its Falcon rocket. The payload was Elon Musk’s cherry red Tesla. Strapped into the driver’s seat was “Starman”, a crash-test dummy, and on the satnav was displayed the words from the cover of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:

Don’t Panic

As of now, in May 2018, the vehicle is just about 52,6 million kilometres from Earth, and about 112.6 million kilometres from Mars. It’s travelling at just under 95,000 km/h. Those are big numbers. But how big is 52.6 million km: Well, it is:

* 200,000 times the length of the Monaco Formula 1 race.

* 100,000 times the distance from London to Edinburgh

* 137 times further from Earth than the moon.


Misplaced decimal point endangers lives

Two students’ lives were put at risk when they were accidentally given a dose of caffeine that was 100 times greater than it should have been. “…  the calculation had been done on a mobile phone, the decimal point being put in the wrong place. ” Getting the numbers right can be a matter of life and death.

Malaria Control in Africa

The Malaria Altas Project has been putting numbers to the results of efforts to bring malaria under control in Africa. They write “We found that

Plasmodium falciparum

infection prevalence in endemic Africa halved and the incidence of clinical disease fell by 40% between 2000 and 2015. We estimate that interventions have averted 663 million clinical cases since 2000.”

Read more, and have a play with their interactive maps.

Violent Crime Rate in the USA: 50% down from peak 25 years ago

It’s shameful when politicians try to cultivate fear with spurious statistics. This article from The Atlantic shows the longer-term trend is clearly one of improvement. People, the world is not so scary as they would have you believe.

2,043,599 Pennies is a big number but is it Art?

Michael Dean is one of the finalists for the 2016 Turner Prize. One of his artworks that forms part of the Turner Prize exhibition at Tate Britain includes £20,435.99 worth of pennies. This is 1p short of the amount designated as the poverty line in the United Kingdom in 2016.

How old are Olympians? (for each sport)

I love how continue to apply their numerical/analytical skills to such a wide variety of subjects and not just to the political polling that is their main focus.

In this article they look at how different sports suit participants of different ages from the very young (gymnastics) to the (ahem) somewhat older (equestrianism).  One fun fact: for Track and Field (the most iconic of the Olympic events) the median age for men and women is exactly equal at 26 years old.

GDP: a Predictor of Olympic Gold?

From the (UK) Office of National Statistics - relationship of national GDP to Olympic gold medal tallies in 2012. How will 2016 look?

Guide to Spotting Dodgy Statistics

David Spiegelhalter gives some advice on how numbers are abused in public life.

Juno arrives at Jupiter

After a 2.8 billion km journey (more than 7000 times the distance to the moon), NASA’s space probe Juno entered orbit around Jupiter. After 5 years of plunging through space, it arrived at precisely the right place at precisely the right time (to within 1 second!).


HK-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge Meets in the Middle

2 June 2016 The world’s longest cross-sea bridge HK-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge was successfully linked up.

Starting from the Lantau Island in Hong Kong, the Y-shaped bridge has a total length of about 55 km, including a 6.7 km underwater tunnel and a 23-km bridge over the sea, making it the longest cross-sea bridge in the world.

The bridge will serve as an important channel linking Hong Kong, Macao, Zhuhai and the western part of the Pearl River Delta, one of the most economically-developed areas in the Chinese mainland.

The cost of the bridge was around 1.5bn USD.



Is That A Big Ship?

Harmony of the Seas has been in the news due to the apparent unreadiness for its first cruise, but from our point of view it offers some good Big Num8ers.

Length: 362.2m; Tonnage 226,963 (=227million kg); Capacity 5,000 - 6,000.

200 Terabyte Mathematical Proof

May 2016: The world’s largest ever mathematical proof has been announced, and it takes 200 Tb to document it. That should be a spur for IsThatABigNumber to add a new section on data sizes. But it’s not the only large number involved.

It’s all about Pythagorean triples, whole-number solutions of Pythagoreas’s equation, and whether all integers can be coloured, each blue or red, such that no Pythagorean triple can be constructed of numbers of the same colour. Turns out there is no such colouring scheme once you get to 7825 or more.

Choosing colours brings us to combinations - in this case that there are 10^2300 ways of colouring 7825, and that is a whole new class of big number.

And finally, the proof wins a prize of $100 (not a big number) from Ronald Graham, who gives his name to the famously big Graham’s Number.

481km: Journey of Wolf over 13 days

“He covered 481 kilometres over 13 days, so he averaged 37 kilometres a day,” said Jesse Whittington, a wildlife ecologist with Banff National Park. “I’ve always known wolves are travellers.“

Is that a big number?


Falcon 9 Launch and Recovery

May 6, 2016: SpaceX successfully launched a Falcon 9 rocket, delivered a Japanese comms satellite into orbit, and then recovered the first stage booster on a platform floating at sea.

Hottest April Ever

0.87 degrees C.

That’s how much hotter April 2016 was, compared to the baseline average. And it’s only the latest in a string of seven record-breaking hottest months.

0.87C?  Is that a big number? In this context it certainly is.

Sumatran Rhino calf born

12 May 2016. A healthy female Sumatran Rhino calf was born on Sumatra Island in Indonesia. There are estimated to be less than 100 left in the world.

Is That A Big Number? No, assuredly not!


Read all about it!

Is That a Big Number? - the book - is now available from all good booksellers.

"This is a fun and riveting book. Written in an accessible and engaging way, it is unputdownable." Frost Magazine

Click here to learn more about it.

Click here for Podcast: Andrew Elliott interviewed for New Books Network.