Saturday, October 22, 2011

Word Problems in the News

Even if you hate mathematics word problems, you’ll like this one.

My mom was watching a local TV news segment the other night when the anchor stated that the recent listeria outbreak:

“...has killed 23 people in 25 states.”

Let’s see…23 people divided by 25 states equals 0.92 people per state…oh, never mind.

It’s all a numbers game, folks. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Word Problems

As a degree requirement, I’m taking a basic mathematics class. Mostly I’m learning that my choice to become a writer instead of a mathematician was probably a good thing. However, a few weeks ago I realized just how important word choices can be in the math world.

The test question went something like this:

John Smith owns 200 acres of land slated for development. 47.5 acres will become a recreational area, and the rest will be divided into 2-1/2 acre residential lots. How many lots will Mr. Smith have?

The way I read it, we were to determine how many 2-1/2 acre lots could be created from the acreage remaining after the 47.5 recreational acres were taken out of the equation. That turned out to be a correct assumption.

Some of the students in my class, though, read too much into the problem. They counted the recreational acreage as one lot, and then added that to the number of 2-1/2 acre lots.

Now, it was never stated that the rec area should be counted as an additional lot. But that’s how these students interpreted it. Confusion could have been avoided if the question writer had simply added one word:

How many residential lots will Mr. Smith have?

As for how I really feel about this class I’m taking:

Friday, October 7, 2011

More Typo Potpourri, Anyone?

Here’s another batch of goofs, culled from a variety of sources over the past few weeks.

From a local news station’s coverage of a standoff situation:

“…an armed SWAT team remains outside.”
[Not a typo, but have you ever seen an unarmed SWAT team in action? Me neither.]

From a Yahoo discussion loop post:

“…and I figure this is probably the best way to decimate this information…”
[Mission accomplished.]

From an online story about the Rays clinching a wild-card spot in the MLB playoffs:

“Pinch-hitter Dan Johnson saved the Rays with a two-out, two-strike solo home runs i the ninth that made it 7-all.”
[Guess this reporter was too excited about the Rays’ win to bother with noun-verb compatibility and spell check.]

The following typos from yet another local news station appeared in the original version of the story, which has since been edited. I give the staff credit for making the corrections, but the editing should have happened before the story was posted, not after.

“Security cameras recording bus riders every move”
[The missing possessive apostrophe in this title carried through to several outside links to the article.]

“…The eye in the sky is also a good way to make sure drivers are not bypassing customers and following the rules of the road.”
[This confusing sentence, sadly, remains in the story.]

“Security measures that keep the riders and drivers safe.”
[This incomplete sentence was all by itself at the end of the story and was subsequently deleted.]

Lastly, here’s a commentary about professionalism in modern journalism.

“Fire Sparks Tons Of Smoke Near Metal Business”

“A business fire, that had firefighters guessing on where it was coming from, created tons of smoke along Garden of the Gods Road Sunday night.”

Writing in the manner that people speak is becoming more commonplace in our society. That doesn’t make it right, nor does it make the writer appear credible. “Guessing on where” the smoke is originating might be acceptable for dialogue in a novel, or as a direct quote. But in a news article, it looks less than polished and professional. “Guessing where it was coming from” would have sufficed.

Likewise, “tons of smoke” is a nice colloquialism, but it’s not a fact. Nobody was on the street quantifying the amount of the smoke, or how much it weighed. How can the reporter know there were “tons” of it?

If you think choice of words doesn’t make a difference, stay tuned for my next post about mathematical word problems. I just might change your mind.