Aggregated Ignorance…

Short one for today… on a personal pet peeve, which is apparently not only my pet peeve. Perhaps more than anything else, I hate it when pundits – who often have little clue what they are talking about to begin with, toss around big numbers with lots of zeros… or “illions” attached in order to make their ideological point. Case and point this morning on Twitter:

Bear in mind, this is nothing new for this particular individual.

Thankfully, I don’t even have to write the critique of this utter foolishness, since the Center for Economic and Policy Research preemptively wrote it the other day! Here’s a portion of their explanation:

As we mark the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty, it would be appropriate to note one of the main causes of its limited success, using big numbers without context. The issue here is a simple one; most people think that we have committed vastly more resources than is in fact the case to fighting this war. As a result, they are reasonably (based on their understanding) reluctant to contribute more resources. (emphasis added)

Please read the rest. It’s only a few paragraphs. Of course, if the intent is to deceive and warp public opinion, then Smarick and others are right on target.





  1. Innumeracy rears its ugly head again and again and again. Imagine, if the NYTimes, the newspaper with the most educated readership in the US, has to commit to making large numbers contextualized properly so its readership can understand them, what happens with the rest of the media, where numerical distortions are not just due to ignorance but to purposeful manipulation of public discourse. And all made possible because our math education sucks big time, and even highly educated people with masters degrees can’t understand basic statistics (never mind actually complex meaningful ones). I’m beginning to think there is no way of arguing ourselves out of this mess of a democracy we live in, or in redirecting the edureform we are so deep into.

    1. As a related endeavor… I keep waiting for (and encouraging) some of the heads of major private independent schools to step up and make some public statements about where we are headed. I know that’s a potential PR nightmare… and not necessarily helpful to the development office. A few have. I’ve set aside a separate blog to discuss this issue. While private independent schools are continuing to take bold steps like adopting physics first science sequences (hardly new… but slow to catch on and an unlikely fit for Common Core or state standards)… increasingly using Harkness as a format for English, History and social science courses… marketing their balanced Arts/Athletics/Academics programs… how can they stand by with the policies being promoted for public districts the dismantling of public schools does provide them a larger applicant base?

  2. Free breakfast and lunch should not be considered enough nutrition for children in poverty. The reduction of food stamp funding is a travesty, exacerbating an already horrendous situation. The next time we go out to dinner, let us think about the children who go to bed hungry. Numbers don’t fill empty stomachs.

  3. I read the article upon which that tweet is based. Where did the writer get that $1 trillion figure from? I assume he is including social security and medicaid. He should also be including as transfers corporate tax breaks, the carried-interest tax rate, and payments to defense contractors.

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