Tim Harford (”the Underground Economist”) is one of our heroes for the way in which he and his team at the BBC’s numbers radio program “More or Less”, forensically dissect dodgy numbers in the news, and abuses of statistics.
Here he tears into three numbers floating around the Brexit debate (for non-Brits, “Brexit” is the potential scenario of BRitain EXITing from the European Union, a proposition that the UK will vote on, in June 2016).
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?
$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 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.
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:
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
I love how fivethirtyeight.com 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.
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!).
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.
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.
“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?
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.