People drowning in large numbers

The first letter to the editor in today’s Sun makes an entirely commendable point–Florida’s state budget has a billion dollar surplus and the governor wants to throw (pardon the expression) a drop in the bucket at the problem of Florida’s polluted, depleted springs–and yet the letter’s so incredibly sad on so many levels.

The first sentence states the governor “is tossing $55 billion at the springs problem.” BILLION? I don’t know how much it would cost to really solve the problem, but 55 billion seems like a good start.

Next paragraph correctly states the offer is $55 million. Million, with an M. But who’s gonna notice that it just got reduced by a factor of a thousand?

Then the writer turns statistician and calls it “less than one-hundredth of one percent (.0055 percent)” of the surplus.

Let’s do some mental math here: A billion dollars–a tenth (10%) of that would be one hundred million dollars. Half of a hundred million would be 50 million, or 5% of the original billion. So that makes 55 million a little more than 5% of the total surplus.

On the other hand, .0055 percent written as a pure decimal number (i.e., without the “percent”) is .000055. What portion of the original billion would that be? Answer: 55 thousand dollars. Again, a number that’s off by a factor of a thousand times. Stated differently, 55 million is “.0055 percent” of a TRILLION dollars.

😦 Level #1: It’s painful when someone’s on your side of an issue and they make such a public and embarrassing display of their utter confusion.

😕 Level #2: What does it say about the Letters editor that such egregious errors are allowed to make it onto the printed page? Shouldn’t they just send it back and say, “Please check your math and resubmit?” But then the letter loses a lot of its power to provoke controversy if 55 million isn’t actually an infinitesimal part of a billion.  And controversy sells.

😯 Level #3: In the online comments, several posters defend the governor but find no fault with the letter’s gargantuan exaggerations. Does that say something about the intellectual astuteness of local Republicans? Or are they just the products of our Republican-dominated government’s public school system?

😥 Level #4:  If only part of that surplus could be allocated to developing a Witless Protection Program…  Some people need to be protected from themselves.

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