BREAKING: Talking Barbie said math is hard!

TUESDAY, JUNE 19, 2018

The Washington Post seems to prove it:
Has there been a big increase in apprehensions at the southern border?

Kevin Drum was trying to figure it out. Along the way, he came across the Washington Post's attempt to work with numbers.

He quoted a passage by the Post's Philip Bump. Warning! As Talking Barbie once thoughtfully said, math can be quite hard:
BUMP (6/18/18): [Secretary Nielsen] repeated a data point that she had mentioned earlier, a data point that Nielsen suggested necessitated taking a zero-tolerance approach to families arriving at the border.

“Again, let’s just pause to think about this statistic: 314 percent increase in adults showing up with kids that are not a family unit,” she said. “Those are traffickers, those are smugglers, that is MS-13, those are criminals, those are abusers.”


A DHS representative provided The Washington Post with the hard numbers behind Nielsen’s statistic. There were 46 cases of fraud—“individuals using minors to pose as fake family units”—in fiscal 2017, the period from October 2016 through September 2017. In the first five months of 2018, there were 191 cases.

That's an increase of 315 percent.
Except that isn't an increase of 315 percent. We'll let Drum explain:
DRUM (6/18/18): This is kind of weird. That’s not an increase of 315 percent. On a monthly basis, which is all that matters, it’s an increase from 3.8/month to 38.2/month. That’s an increase of 905 percent...
Drum continued on from there, seeking the bigger story. We decided too stop right there, to marvel at what Bump had written.

Everybody makes mistakes. But in his comparison, Bump was comparing the alleged number of apprehensions for an entire fiscal year to the alleged number of apprehensions over a recent five-month period.

No, you can't sensibly do that. Not when you're working with numbers!

Everybody makes mistakes; perhaps this remarkable groaner was just a random brain cramp. That said, we'll admit it. When we checked the text from Bump to see if Drum's account could possibly be right, this is what we were thinking:

It's impossible to get our major journalists to report essential data. They refuse to report the major gains which have occurred in Naep scores. They refuse to report the giant achievement gaps contained in those same stats.

They refuse to report the astounding statistics about the per person cost of American health care. All in all, basic data don't exist within the work of our upper-end press corps.

Basic data don't exist within the work of our press corps! We'll admit that, when we read Drum's post, this thought came to mind:

Top scribes refuse to report basic data? Maybe it's just as well...


  1. It was talking Malibu Stacy who said math was hard. Barbie is actually quite good with numbers and resents your profiling of her.

    1. Thank you for sticking up for Barbie. Malibu Stacy would say anything that popped into her head, it seems, but not so Barbie, whom, as you say, was and is a math whiz.

  2. This is why people go to college. It is difficult to think with numbers, much less reason about them. Somerby let Drum do all the heavy lifting for him, then stepped in to gloat.

    Those NAEP scores for high school students predict that no one who reads a newspaper is going to notice much less care whether the data supports the conclusions drawn. They prefer stories without numbers.

    But Bernie thinks a college degree is unnecessary, and presumably Somerby agrees, since he regularly mocks those with higher learning. But this is one of those times when being less innumerate comes in handy.

    Much easier for dictators to hookwink the people if they can't interpret budget figures, numbers of people incarcerated for saying mean things about Trump, etc.

    Re: Malibu Stacy. Men successfully conned women into believing they couldn't do math for centuries, while they controlled all of their financial assets and made all decisions for them. That's what our orange-faced fuhrer wants to do for us, except someone will obviously have to do that for him first, and wonder who that will be!

    1. "Somerby let Drum do all the heavy lifting for him, then stepped in to gloat."
      You have a twisted mind.

    2. How to respond 7:59 PM? Let's just say that among those who hold a comically over inflated opinion of the value of their own insights, a disproportionate number of them are embittered Clintonista dead-enders.

      LINK 1

      LINK 2

    3. Yes, they thought free online courses were going to revolutionize education. Then they found out that less than 5% of people finish a course they've signed up for. In person teachers motivate. Structure and discipline are essential to learning. There's no education without hard work but people need help putting in the effort.

      But you and Bernie keep on dreaming.

    4. This comment has been removed by the author.

    5. "This is why people go to college."

      Link 1 was elementary school material, Link 2 junior high math. Your point seems to be a journalism degree is what you need to unlearn what public school teachers imparted.

    6. Let's just say how comical it is that CMike unironically views others' opinions of the value of their own insights as overinflated.

    7. CMike, when you just post links, no one knows what your point is.

    8. 11:35 AM, I'm guessing there actually was a somebody or two who knew exactly what my point was but I'll spell it out. It was absurd for the ever tedious 7:59 PM to suggest that "people go to college" to get a handle on the arithmetic and concepts Kevin Drum used to correct the percentage given in that Washington Post article.

    9. Your links seemed to suggest that you think people can learn math by watching videos online. I addressed that.

      Kevin Drum went to Cal Tech for two years, then transferred to CSU Long Beach (according to Wikileaks) where he changed his major to journalism. So, yes, I do think he learned to read graphs and reason with numbers in college.

      Cognitive psychology studies the ability of people to think and reason with numbers. It shows that they have more trouble with percentages than proportions, that they don't reason well with quantifiers, and that they have a bias when it comes to thinking about things expressed as negatives instead of positives (how many people will die as opposed to how many will be cured) even when the numbers are the same.

      So doing some elementary school or middle school math in a textbook doesn't translate to competence when evaluating real life situations. Word problems are very hard for nearly all students and they don't do well at framing problems in real life, no matter how well they can calculate using formulas.

      People who go to college get better at it. No matter what they study in college, because all students are required to have minimum math and language competence upon graduation (at most colleges and universities and by law for public universities in some states). That's why employers prefer to hire college graduates, no matter what their majors.

      But Bernie doesn't understand this, which was MY point. Neither does Bill Maher.

      Remember that when you think someone else is tedious, they probably are thinking the same thing about you.

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    11. First off it's not anyone's background in mathematics that's at play here. For the writer, he posted his data carelessly/thoughtlessly (along the same lines as if he had used a mixed metaphor). Bob Somerby has long pointed out examples of this occurring.

      As far as a reader who could pass the math portion of a GED test is concerned, other factors are at play in whether or not this mistake would be noticed. First, consciously or unconsciously the reader decides, given their level of interest in the subject matter and their time constraints, whether they want to take some care in considering each of the points being raised in the text before them or whether the reader will be satisfied with gaining just an impression, or little more than that, about what is being discussed.

      If the reader has decided to expend some effort in considering the points being raised in an argument or by a report then they need an understanding of the nature of both inductive and deductive reasoning AND be willing to go through the text point by point AND have enough self-confidence to reject or, at least, not accept factual assertions or premises which seem suspect to them.

      Among the logical fallacies the reader will be presented with most frequently is the Appeal to Authority though, at this point, I would recommend everyone keep in mind the following advice from Bertrand Russell's introduction to his Sceptical Essays [1928] [LINK]:

      [QUOTE] There are matters about which those who have investigated them are agreed; the dates of eclipses may serve as an illustration. There are other matters about which experts are not agreed. Even when the experts all agree, they may well be mistaken. Einstein's view as to the magnitude of the deflection of light by gravitation would have been rejected by all experts not many years ago, yet it proved to be right. Nevertheless the opinion of experts, when it is unanimous, must be accepted by non-experts as more likely to be right than the opposite opinion.

      The scepticism that I advocate amounts only to this: (1) that when the experts are agreed, the opposite opinion cannot be held to be certain; (2) that when they are not agreed, no opinion can be regarded as certain by a non-expert; and (3) that when they all hold that no sufficient grounds for a positive opinion exist, the ordinary man would do well to suspend his judgment.

      These propositions may seem mild, yet, if accepted, they would absolutely revolutionize human life.
      [END QUOTE]

  3. This is one weird post. It suggests to me (without reading any zombie-links) that zombie-intellectuals can't resist a nitpick over the meaningless number of hundreds of percents even while destroying their own standard zombie 'narrative': 'think-of-the-children separated from their parents'.

    Of course in reality it doesn't really matter if those are someone else's children smuggled by 'coyotes', or if they are children of people who committed crime of illegal border crossing. You commit a crime and get caught - you get separated from your children. And consequently your children get separated from you. C'est la vie.

    1. More good news for the mythical trump voters with economic anxiety:

      House Republicans released a proposal Tuesday that would balance the budget in nine years — but only by making large cuts to entitlement programs, including Medicare, that President Trump vowed not to touch.

      The budget would transform Medicaid, the federal-state health-care program for the poor, by limiting per capita payments or allowing states to turn it into a block-grant program — the same approach House Republicans took in their legislation that passed last year to repeal the Affordable Care Act (the repeal effort died in the Senate, but the GOP budget assumes that the repeal takes place). It also proposes adding work requirements for certain adults enrolled in Medicaid. Changes to Medicaid and other health programs would account for $1.5 trillion in savings.

    2. When did they take jamie Dimon's kids away? And can someone find the footage and run it on a loop on one of our 24-hour "news" channels? It would be a ratings bonanza.

    3. " You commit a crime and get caught - you get separated from your children. And consequently your children get separated from you."

      So Donnie the Magnificent and Ivana are going to separate prisons?

    4. "You commit a crime and get caught - you get separated from your children."

      What if the crime is money laundering?
      Asking for a President.

  4. Of course, the point of Drum's post was not to criticize the Post story, which did after all supply the data that allowed Drum to do his own calculations. You can see how DHS came up with 315%; Drum
    wondered why DHS did not use the higher number that he calculated, and asked some probing questions about the way DHS arrived at its conclusions. Bump also questions the statistics from DHS, but comes at it in a different way from Drum.

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