Our numerate journalist of the day

While 50,100 pounds of ground beef is a disgustingly huge amount (more than enough to sculpt a cube three stories high)

You what?

50,000 lbs is 25 short tonnes or more like a 20 foot container load, not some monstrous cube three stories high.

12 thoughts on “Our numerate journalist of the day”

  1. Hmm, I don’t think he’s that far out unless my schoolboy maths is failing me, again, and

    When I was doing a lot of radio planning we used to estimate the height of buildings assuming 3m per floor. Its a bit on the high side but close enough.

    So a 3 story high cube would be 27 m^3. We know that a 1m cube of water weighs 1 tonne or 1000kg, so that would be 27,000kg of water. There’s just over 2lbs per kg which means about 54,000lbs of water.

    I can’t find the relative density of meat but I’d guess its > water, but not by much so we can use the water example as a rough guide.

    So, as a first order approximation he’s right, unless I’ve missed something and I’d be more than happy to be proved wrong.

  2. Simon: you made a schoolboy error in your schoolboy maths. You calculated 3^3 = 27, but since three storeys is 9 m high, a cube three storeys high would have a volume 9^3 = 9*9*9 = 729 m^3.

    It gives a handle on how the journalist managed to make the same mistake, though.

  3. You a journalist, Simon? You’re certainly not a builder. 27m3 would give you one storey. (3x3x3) Or about the volume of a medium bedroom. Cooking experience would indeed give the density of mince at slightly more than water.
    Tim’s 20′ container could accommodate the beef pre-packed.

  4. One can also look at this another way, scaling down to common experience. The 50,100lbs is approximately 50,000 x 1lb (approx 500g) packs of minced/ground beef of the sort available in most supermarkets.

    So take the cube root of 50,000, which is approximately 37.

    Imaging a one pound (500g) pack reshaped into a cube: (having no stock at this time) I guestimate that to be around 3 inches (7.5cm) per side. Then stack 37 of them on top of each other, to get a bit over 9 feet (approx 3m).

    To get the 3-storey cube, each 1lb (500g) pack, reshaped into a cube, would need sides of around 9.5 inches (24cm). This is not what we observe: not in the supermarket and not in the kitchen.

    Best regards

  5. bloke in spain
    August 3, 2013 at 11:27 am

    Is there a numerical equivalent of Murphry’s Law?
    Or a speelling one?

    Tim adds: Hurrah! Mike falls into the trap.

    Murphy’s Law is that anything that can go wrong will.

    Muphry’s Law is that in any piece complaining about the spelling or grammar of a piece there will be an equal or greater one in the complaint than the original one being complained of.

  6. Er, the hack in question didn’t say the cube was made _of_ ground meat, but _by_ ground meat. I envisage him sticking electrodes into a large pile of minced beef, shouting ‘live, live, rise up and sculpt!’

    Then again, since the author in question doesn’t appear to know the differing usages of dashes and brackets, it’s possible it was just poor grammar combined with worse arithmetic. D’you think he can tie his own shoelaces?

  7. People are not bad at mentally scaling linear quantities (unity power in the variable), bad at scaling quadratic quantities like area with a power of two in the variable and terrible at scaling cubic and higher powers. For example, a gold coin 2 cm wide and 5mm thick weighs very close to an ounce. There are 35840 ounces in a ton. So how big is a ton of gold? Most people will estimate a cube about 2′ on a side, but it’s closer to 13″.

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