Sunday, July 16, 2006

"A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you're talking real money."

There's an interesting post by aprichard on Daily Kos titled "The Importance of Understanding Large Numbers."
Our democracy depends on an informed electorate, but as the issues get more complex, and politicians become adept at the marketing tools and PR, it becomes more and more difficult to know what to believe. Putting large numbers in context will help.
The post offers some nice benchmarks for discussing issues involving numbers with our increasingly innumerate fellow Americans.

I added a comment saying that often it helps to begin discussion with a bit of humor, just to make it clear that you're not throwing around numbers just to show off (something that drives the innumerate nuts and makes them lose all perspective). Hard to beat the old classic:
"A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you're talking real money." -- Attributed to Everett Dirksen
The quote is no less funny for there being very little evidence that the late Illinois senator ever said any such thing. There’s some fascinating background here -- including another funny story:
A gentleman who called The Center with a reference question relayed that he sat by Dirksen on a flight once and asked him about the famous quote. Dirksen replied, "Oh, I never said that. A newspaper fella misquoted me once, and I thought it sounded so good that I never bothered to deny it."
Of course, with the jokers we have in the White House now, it should probably be amended to "A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon you're talking about trillions."

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