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Oz out by a factor of 20

June 20th, 2012

Today’s Oz runs the headline, “Carbon tax pushes Brisbane City Council rates up 40pc“, which, as a Brisbane ratepayer, I would have found alarming, if it had been printed in a newspaper, rather than a Murdoch rag. The story, bylined by Rosanne Barrett, reveals that the true number, according to Liberal Lord Mayor Graham Quirk, is 1.8 per cent[1], out of a total increase of 4.5 per cent. Blame for the ludicrous error must be shared between Barrett, who tried a beatup in her opening line, saying “AUSTRALIA’S biggest council has blamed the carbon tax for almost 40 per cent of its rates increase next financial year” and the Oz subeditor, who, not surprisingly, translated that into a 40 per cent increase in rates, not 40 per cent of a 4.5 per cent increase.

Update The headline has been (silently) corrected to read “Carbon tax helps push Brisbane City Council rates up $55”. Good to see the Oz reads me, though not, as a rule, vice versa. I picked the story up from the Making Environmental News digest service, to which you can subscribe here.

fn1. The numbers are disputed by the Labor Opposition.

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  1. Paul Norton
    June 20th, 2012 at 14:34 | #1

    Some weeks ago Piers Akerman was out by an order of magnitude more than the Oz in this instance in a snarky column he wrote about the Sydney City Council’s tree planting policies.

  2. Paul Norton
    June 20th, 2012 at 14:39 | #2

    I can’t find the link but it involved Akerman repeating, without checking, a calculation by a blogger who didn’t understand that there are a million, rather than a thousand, square metres in a square kilometre.

  3. Paul Norton
    June 20th, 2012 at 14:52 | #3

    Little wonder that the concept of statistical significance is beyond them.

  4. John Quiggin
    June 20th, 2012 at 16:24 | #4

    Google found me this Media Watch report


  5. Paul Norton
    June 20th, 2012 at 16:48 | #5

    Good stuff JQ.

    The downside of this is that the restructuring underway at Fairfax and (soon) News means that many of the reporters who will be first to go will be those in specialist areas such as environment, science, technology, health and the like who can do their sums and can understand and explain the quantitative information relevant to the stories being covered. For that matter, a nodding acquaintance with mathematics is useful even in such “mainstream” areas of reportage and analysis as economic commentary, social trends and interpretation of opinion poll data.

  6. Troy Prideaux
    June 20th, 2012 at 16:56 | #6

    I’d like to see Piers challenged to an early High School maths exam. I’d be surprised if passed it. It’s not the 1st time he’s been caught out on simple maths. Who knows, in 18 months time both Fairfax and News Ltd could be in a bidding war for these immeasurable mathematical talents.

  7. John Quiggin
    June 20th, 2012 at 17:16 | #7

    It’s depressing that these guys keep on making ludicrous errors like this, showing that they simply have no understanding of orders of magnitude, basic statistics and so on, yet never draw the conclusion that they really aren’t qualified to judge this kind of thing. As long as it confirms their prejudices, they seem to be utterly credulous. And yet they call themselves ‘sceptics’.

  8. Ernestine Gross
    June 20th, 2012 at 17:42 | #8

    Greg Combet spoke at a press conference today on the topic of carbon tax. He made a serious (and IMO successful) effort to explain matters in a coherent fashion and he supported his statements with data. A friend of mine alerted me to this event with a phone call. (Yet another example of networking in information dissemination.)

    To the best of my recollection, the OZ item was not not mentioned by G.C. This would go toward your Update, JQ.

  9. Tristan Knowles
    June 20th, 2012 at 19:44 | #9

    The problem is that these things, even if corrected, will perpetuate mistruths and misunderstanding. I was speaking to a mattress manufacturer in Melbourne the other day about his concerns and his #1 concern was the carbon tax. I asked him how it would impact him and he said “everything will go up”. I asked him by how much and more importantly, how much he estimated was due to the carbon tax and he had no idea. Unfortunately a simple message repeated is successful.

  10. June 20th, 2012 at 21:15 | #10
  11. June 20th, 2012 at 21:18 | #11

    Forgot to mention the “King Parrot” in that last post is now the Assistant Minister for Tourism.

  12. June 21st, 2012 at 09:24 | #12

    @Paul Norton
    That wasn’t a blogger who couldn’t tell the difference between 100 square kms and 100 km squared, it was the opposition’s climate spokesman:

  13. Luke Elford
    June 21st, 2012 at 09:33 | #13

    @ Paul Norton: You’d hope that, even if the Wentworth Courier, Piers Akerman and Tim Blair found the abstract maths of the relationship between a square metre and a square kilometre too hard, they’d have enough of a handle on the maths characteristics of the real world to see that the calculation made no sense.

    So, you’d think that they’d realise that, since 1000 square metres is the size of one to two suburban housing lots or five times the floor area of a large house, it couldn’t possibly be equal to a square kilometre.

    You’d hope that a journalist covering local government for the Wentworth Courier, at least, would have some idea about the size of Sydney LGA’s population, about 185,000 last year, and could calculate that a million trees would be 5.4 per resident, and would understand that it couldn’t possibly be the case that there were seven residents for every square metre of Sydney LGA.

  14. Eric Cartman
    June 21st, 2012 at 12:05 | #14

    Joel and luke, it’s sobering to think that these people got through the schooling system without ever looking at the conversion tables on the backs of their exercise books.

  15. Paul Norton
    June 21st, 2012 at 12:06 | #15

    Sorry, meant to post that under my real name – although the kids in South Park probably have a better handle on maths than does Akerman.

  16. BilB
    June 21st, 2012 at 13:29 | #16

    It is not just maths that Akerman is incompetent with, it is also language. Boneparte went to some trouble to make measurement reliable and easy to understand. That is why he used the term “kilo”, meaning a thousand, to represent a large measure of distance based on the very familiar measurement of a “metre”, or one large pace. So a kilo metre is simply one thousand metres. Then there is the term “square”, which in the language means a shape with four equal length sides. So far it is all “language”, the medium of journalists.

    Then it gets a little tricky. One needs to know to multiply adjacent sides to determine the area of a “square” or “rectangle”. I think that we are at about third class primary school here, but in the square kilometre calculation the numbers are really big, so we move up several grades to the fifth grade to have the confidence to get this calculation, which is a kilo times a kilo or a kilo squared, right.

    So it is pretty clear that Akerman is neither competent with arithmetic, nor language. Whatever it is that they are paying him to do what he does, it is that much too much! Is Akerman to be one of the thousand? He should be, so let’s hope so.

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