Context

Numbers. Numbers. Numbers. The media often obfuscate, though unnecessarily. Either ignorance or prejudice prevents the most important aspect of data: context.

Others, mostly philosophers, suggest that the world presents a whirling, buzzing mass of confusion and that were it not for our particular brains nothing would make sense. That is, we impose order, primarily through categories, rendering intelligible that which we perceive.

Economist Dean Baker, a much-needed antidote to media irresponsibility, greets each morning with volumes of meaningless numbers tossed freely about by myriad media outlets. This morning he slams NPR for its report on the economic implications of the EPA’s just-announced plan to reduce carbon emissions. Well, ‘slams’ is too harsh.

Baker typically begins his critique with more polite rhetoric, as in “it would be helpful.” I’ll quote:

It would be helpful if these stories gave some idea of the numbers involved. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics there are just under 80,000 employed by the coal mining industry. This is less than 0.06 percent of total employment. If the economy generates jobs at the rate of 200,000 a month (roughly its pace over the last year), the total number of jobs in the coal industry are equal to the number that would be generated in 12 days.

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