Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Wednesday Math, Vol. 126: Calling bullshit on the Huffington Post's numbers

Today on the HuffingtonPost, there was a report on the nine most polluted places on earth. One was London, England, which may or may not be true. The story showed pictures and had a paragraph length cation on each. One of the claims in the London paragraph was "The life expectancy of Britons has been reduced by nine years due to air pollution."

Hmm, I thought. That seems high.

So like any good mathematician, I wanted to see if that number checked out. I went to the C.I.A. World Factbook to see what they said. (I know, since when does a commie pinko like me trust the C.I.A.? As far as I can tell, they don't paint a rosy, pro-American with these numbers, and for comparing countries, this is as good a place to start as any.)

According to the C.I.A., the average life expectancy at birth in the U.K. is 79.02 years. This puts them behind the large Western European countries. France, Spain, Italy and Germany are all better than the Brits. So are Sweden, Norway and the Low Countries. In Western Europe, the Danes are worse at 78.30 years, as are the Irish (78.24) and the Portuguese (78.11). (For comparison, the U.S. is at 78.11. It's pretty common for the States to trail all of Western Europe in quality of life statistics.)

The real problem with these numbers is the "nine years". Adding 9 to 79.02 would give us an average life expectancy of 88.02 years. There is no country on earth that has those kind of numbers. Right now, Macau leads the world with an average life expectancy of 84.36.

If the statement had been nine months instead of nine years, it might be possible to argue the validity of this. Not to minimize the effects of bad air and water on human life, but just as with the numbers on life expectancy of football players, somebody took some data and twisted it way out of shape.

There's the very odd colloquial saying "Don't kid a kidder." I'm not a kidder, but don't bring that weak shit into my house, because when it comes to the numbers, I don't play.


sfmike said...

Macau? Now that's information.

Distributorcap said...

huff post is fast becoming the national enquirer

Matty Boy said...

sfmike: Macau is a surprise. They have also become one of the countries with very a low infant mortality rate. Yay, Macau!

D-cap: Yeah, HuffPo feels like all empty calories now. There are issues I believe are serious problems, but inflating the numbers doesn't help anybody except the idiots who deny that humans could possibly have an effect on the environment.