Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Figures

News is suppposed to keep one informed about the world. Besides giving us details on the latest arbitrary tragedy, lascivious details on the most recent car crash, or how fast the last police chase was, I mean. Ideally, in an ideal world, the news should be informing us. We would put off, I think, if we turned on the 6 o'clock update to hear them speaking latin backwards through a trumpet mute.

That's why I'm always amazed when they just throw out a figure, and assume that everyone knows what the hell it means. For example :
"Crude oil production is down 3 million barrels this quarter."

What the hell does that mean?Is that a large percentage? Historically, does this happen often? What's the percentage change, even, would be nice. If you told me crude oil production was down 10% last quarter, even me, a OPEC ignoramus, would have a rough idea on what this means.

But now, they just throw it out there, and hope that the five people in the audience who even havve the faintest clue what it means and why, will tell the person next to them. Maybe they have hopes that, like a country wide game of telephone, the useful bit of information from that odd piece of data will make its way around.

I mean, can you imagine if everyone else did this in real life?

"I see your blood is pumping at 1 litre per39 seconds now...." as doctor stares ambigiously at you.

"Our special today is the roasted duck, which is $1.20 per 45 grams. Would you like to see the wine list?"

Life would be that much more frustrating.

But the more I think about it, the more I realize that many professions do just that. Spout off facts and figures assuming that you will understand, or that you will be too embarrassed to ask for clarification. Some mechanics come to mind, that annoying IT guy who feels that much better about himself because he knows how to reseat your RAM. The land of mystery, of the unknown. Many professions, I'd grant almost all professions use it for ill and for good. I don't particularly want to know how they make my sausage. That's a good mystery.I do, however, want to know what a gasket is, why it's blown, and why it costs $500 to 'get er done'.

I can give them a pass on it though. It's the way they do business, hell, it's the way many of them stay in business, but the news? The business of the news is to inform you. Giving us figures without any context or significance behind it makes me glad I get all my news from the web.

3 comments:

Monkfish said...

Down 3 million barrels! OMG! Was that Brent Crude, Dubai Crude or West Texas Intermediate?

Silverback said...

See, this is where the very useful 'laid end to end' expression comes into it's own.

Where WOULD we be without it ? Now 3 million barrels, as well as keeping cockneys busy rolling for decades, would come sharply into focus if we were also informed that, "laid end to end, they would reach half way to the moon."

There. I totally understand it now, as do the crew of Apollo 13 I suspect.

Niteowl said...

monkfish : I do believe it was Alaskan Refuge. Now with 30% less endangered elk antlers!

silverback: True, the term 'laid end to end' isn't used nearly enough. I'm sure some enterprising Texan with a penchant for folksy tales filled with drawl and a poor protagonist full of moxy has copyrighted it or somesuch.