Numeracy at the Daily Mail

One of the things I continually whine about: the way in which the arts graduates who write our newspapers seem not to have any grasp of numbers.

Greenhouse gas could be a huge untapped source of energy, generating \’400 times as much power as the Hoover Dam\’

Dutch scientists have come up with a new technique to unlock the power of waste carbon dioxide pumped out of current power plants
The Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Water Technology believes its method could produce a staggering 1,570 kilowatts of electricity annually

I seriously doubt that 400 times the output of the Hoover Dam is enough to only keep a one bar electric fire going for the average working year.

The team came up with a way to use the waste gas from power stations, industry and homes that they believe could produce a staggering 1,570 billion kilowatts of electricity annually.

Ah, that seems more reasonable.

1,570 kilowatts of electricity per year is what the scientists predict their technique could produce using waste gas from power stations industry and homes, which is…

Fail again.

All of them would instincively get a spelling or grammar mistake of such magnitude. But with numbers they seem a little lost.

16 comments on “Numeracy at the Daily Mail

  1. And kilowatts per year is not dimensionally correct either: kW are a measure of power, ie a flow of energy. They probably mean kilowatt hours, which is a convenient measure of energy.

  2. “the power of waste carbon dioxide”

    It’s quite a lot if you apply E=mc^2, which is probably the only way to arrive at their figure…

  3. More important than intermittently dropping the “billion” – one can correct that oneself – is the use of the meaningless “1,570 billion kilowatts of electricity annually”. In fact, as abacab speculates, they mean “1,570 billion kilowatt hours of electricity per year”. Here’s the unmangled story.

    (“billion kilowatts” is bizarre in itself. No one measures power station output in kilowatts.)

  4. Hmm. I took quick scan at the source paper and couldn’t see any statement about how much leccie it takes to drive the process (bubbling the CO2 then bubbling air, plus all the ancilliaries on an industrial scale). Unconvinced.

  5. Geoff,

    Hardly – you’ll need to practice more on the pendantry. Tim’s little faux pas is a classic example of “Muphry’s Law”.

  6. @Surreptitious Evil – I don’t normally point out typos; I just thought the context of this one was amusing.

    And I’ll have to remember “Muphry’s Law” – it’s a new one to me.

  7. Funny how pure scientists don’t get Economics at all. Only Professor Soddy, a Nobel Prize winner. His ideas have been taken up by MMT-ists .Enoch Powell was much the most numerate of politicians but he was a pre-eminent classicist.

  8. Sorry, arts graduate here and good with numbers. Now my missus, a science student, is really bad at numbers and could have written that piece. 🙂

  9. Same here. Arts grad who does numbers for a living and EVERYFINK!

    The DM error is not a sign of poor numeracy skills. It’s carelessness and/or having no understanding of the unit of measurement.

    I spotted the error because the billion was there one minute and not the next. Had it been omit entirely it would have passed me by because I stopped knowing the relevant unit of measurement ten minutes after completing the relevant GCSE.

  10. Kilowatt hours per year, and other strange units.

    Reading the article linked by Paul B, this seems to have the aura of a perpetual motion machine to it, but not knowing the energetics of the process specifically, maybe not.

  11. 1 kWh/yr is about 114 mW. I wonder if the average journo’s inability to grasp the difference between kWh and kW has anything to do with his inability to grasp the difference between a stock and a flow.

    The oft-misquoted kW/day has units of N m s^-2. It measures rate of change of power and is therefore quite a useful unit if one wished to, say, state how fast a change in a gas turbine’s output became available in response to a control signal. Say it’s a big ‘un, 100 MW, and it goes from 10% of rated power to 50% in 25s. That’s 1.6 MW/s (or 138 million kW/day.) Quite an important figure if you need to know how fast you can bring your backup on-stream when the bird-mincers stop spinning.

  12. Tim, please don’t lump all arts grads together. These people are just thick. That is all 😉

  13. As one DM commenter put it, “DM journalists have all been fitted with dimmer switches”!

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