Posts Tagged ‘BBC’

Weighty Matters

Sunday, 26 September 2010

The metric system has some points of genuine superiority to those of the English (aka American) system, but that superiority tends to be exaggerated. For example, the every-day English measures for volume tend to be implicitly binary, allowing easy halving or doubling. (If base 10 were everywhere superior to base 2, then our computers would be designed differently.)

One of the things that I was told as a child was that the metric system were superior because it measured in terms of mass, rather than weight, with the former being invariant while the latter would change in the face of a gravitational field. Well, actually, the English system has a unit of mass; it's the slug, 1 lb·sec2/ft, which is about 14.6 kg.

Meanwhile, I observe that, in countries where the metric system ostensibly prevails, people typically use its names of units of mass (gram and kilogram) for units of weight; they even refer to what is measured as a weight. Now, the real metric system does have a unit for weight, because weight is a force; weight can be measured by the newton (or by the dyne, which is a hundred-thousandth of a newton). But people aren't doing that; they're using kilogram as if it means about 9.807 N.

Much as it may be claimed that America is the only industrialized nation not on the metric system, really nobody's on it.

I notice that the Beeb most often wants to speak and write of weight, rather than of mass, but in the most ghastly unit of all, the stone (pronounced /stɛun/, with at least one pinkie extended). The stone is 14 pounds (divisible by 2 and, uh, 7). When weights don't divide into integer multiples of 14 pounds, tradition is to represent weight in terms of a combination of stone and pounds, as in Me mum weighs 19 stone and 12. Of course, if the Beeb were using pounds at all, there'd be the two obvious questions of

Why aren't you just using pounds for the whole lot?
and
Wait, now that I think of it, what happened to that metric stuff?
So the Beeb feels compelled just to round everything up or down to an integral number of stone, and somebody's mum either gains two pounds or loses twelve.

What Else Is New?

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

As is its wont, the Beeb gets things quite wrong:

Race for God particle heats up by James Morgan of the BBC
Fermilab say the odds of their Tevatron accelerator finding it first are now 50-50 at worst, and up to 96% at best.

Cern's Lyn Evans admitted the accident which will halt the $7bn Large Hadron Collider until September may cost them one of the biggest prizes in physics.
The race hasn't heated-up; it has slowed-down as a result of the CERN accident, giving Fermilab a chance to catch-up and possibly win.

Speaking of the Beeb getting things wrong (this time for lack of ethical bearings), here's and interesting (if somewhat lengthy) critique of Earth: The Climate Wars:

Equations and Differentiations

Monday, 3 November 2008

A couple of things to note about this story:

Eurozone is on verge of recession from BBC
The eurozone is on the brink of recession with economic growth falling 0.2% in the second quarter, the European Commission has announced.

First, we yet again have the BBC confusing a rate of change with the thing changing, The last time that I took note of such confusion from them, they were confusing the growth rate of GDPYt) with the change in that growth rate (Δ2Yt2). This time, they've turned around to confuse the growth rate of GDPYt) with GDP (Y) itself. (If they maintain the earlier confusion, then by transitivity they confuse Y with Δ2Yt2.)

The Eurozone economy isn't growing 0.2% more slowly than before; its production is shrinking at a rate of 0.2%. (GDP is not itself a growth rate of under-lying wealth, because the vast majority of what is produced is consumed, rather than saved.)

A second thing to note is that the BBC is referring to the Eurozone as on the verge of a recession, while America may already be in recession. The brute fact is essentially the same across these two economies — one quarter in which production declined — but the Eurozone is made to seem on the cusp while America is presented as perhaps already well-in.

The Curse of Stagnant Change

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Here, from the BBC, is a bit of rot:

Policy makers will begin their two-day meeting later amid signs that economic growth has stagnated, or even shrunk.
Okay, stagnate means to become unchanging; which is to say that stagnant growth would be a constant growth. Some might perhaps hope for ever-accelerating growth, but most people would be happy with constant growth at, say, 3% to 4% per annum.

There is indeed some concern that the rate of growth has shrunk, but what really concerns people is the possibility that the rate of production (rather than of growth) may have shrunk.

Journalists are just constantly confusing underlying values, first differences, second differences, and so forth. In this case, GDP (or something like it) is our x, growth is Δxt, and the change of the rate of growth is Δ2xt2. A stagnant rate of growth would imply

Δ2xt2 = 0
whereäs the fear is that
Δxt ≤ 0
Last year, the Beeb similarly confused the inflation rate with the price level:
The latest inflation rate — or Consumer Prices Index for December as it is formally called — was known to the Bank of England before it made the decision last Thursday to raise interest rates to 5.25%.
(The initial version of the story was even worse, having the title Cost of living at 11-year high. Various parties tried to tried to get the Beeb to fix things, but they just couldn't wrap their heads around the matter.)

This confusion of underlying values and differences is illustrative of the more general problem that the mass of journalists and the mass of their editors just have no understanding of economics, and couldn't sensibly inform the typical reader even if they wanted to do so (and I seriously doubt that they want to do so).