The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Innumeracy in the news media.

Yesterday, I was walking past a television, in Singapore, when I heard the news anchor announce that Michael Jackson's music had shown a jump in sales of 80% at HMV - higher than ever before in history.

That stumped me. How could 80% be "the highest jump in history". I thought it remarkably low.

Later on, in the day, from a different, online source, I found the same story referred to in the following way: "an 80 FOLD rise in Michael Jackson's music sales has been seen by HMV".

80 fold is 8000% NOT 80%.

I was struck, once more, by the innumeracy often shown by news media. Journalists deal with words - and in some cultures, they don't do that very well either (Singapore may be one such place) - but it is particularly with numbers, that they come unstuck. Many journalists are very poor numerically - and even their editors are no better, otherwise the errors would not get through into print and/or broadcast. I have often seen, for instance, great personal fortunes referred to with a number, followed by "million", rather than what it must obviously be, given the person in question, "billion". I have even seen the same error of confusion between million, billion and trillion when referring to national and international finance of countries. It is really quite silly and could cause confusion among some of the readers, who might be led to a completely false view of the circumstance if they are unable to make the correction for themselves.

There is an argument here, therefore, that journalists should be screened not just for their competence with words, but their grasp of numbers, too - otherwise, their innumeracy becomes the innumeracy of the population, too.

As for Michael Jackson: I am sure he will sell more music in the next year or two, than he did in life...but I don't think it does him much good. I think he would prefer to be around to moonwalk in insolvency, instead.

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and seven months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, five years exactly, and Tiarnan, twenty-eight months, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, the Irish, the Malays, Singapore, College, University, Chemistry, Science, genetics, left-handedness, precocity, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, wunderkind, wonderkind, genio, гений ребенок prodigy, genie, μεγαλοφυία θαύμα παιδιών, bambino, kind.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 8:56 PM 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

there are two different ways of writing billion which makes it bery confusing. one is 10^9 wich is shorthad billion but actually a billiardth and the other is 10^12 wich is long hand billion. I have no idea why both are usedm it seems kinda stupid doesnt it

1:37 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Yes, that is silly. I think, however, that 10 to the 9 is the one that is generally expected, now, for a "billion".

Thanks for pointing this out.

7:19 PM  

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