Arithmetic Manoeuvres in the Dark at the Irish Times

In a week when the Irish Times carried reports complaining about the dumbing down of Leaving Cert maths the paper itself provided us with some beauties.  An article yesterday by a former head of the School of Education at UCD informs us that  “nine per cent of academics at professor level were male and 2 per cent were female”.  What about the other 89 (or 77 or 61 or whatever it is)?

Last Saturday’s paper carried a report on ESRI work on overqualified workers.  The author revealed himself to hold a masters degree from UCD.  The piece (clearly not quoting directly from the ESRI) tells us that “adults whose highest educational attainment is the Leaving Cert earn 31 per cent less on average than those with a higher certificate or ordinary degree, and 100 per cent less than graduates with an honours degree”.  I’m sure we all sympathise with how tough it must be to make ends meet on the latter salary.

Even some of their commentators on economics seem to think that a 200 per cent increase means that the thing has doubled.  But it could be worse: imagine a 200 per cent decrease.

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16 thoughts on “Arithmetic Manoeuvres in the Dark at the Irish Times”

  1. Ireland’s Paper of Record Lies puts so much effort into fiddling statistics to support its liberal agenda that those working for it have lost whatever little genuine statistical ability they may once have had. On the issue of the 9 per cent male/2 per cent female, I’d guess this is not entirely due to statistical incompetence, but a manifestation of gender theory, now all the rage in liberal circles. The Paper of Record Lies probably thought it presumptuous to describe the other 89 per cent as male of female, as it would view this as a matter of choice, rather than being determined by physical attributes.

  2. “adults whose highest educational attainment is the Leaving Cert earn 31 per cent less on average than those with a higher certificate or ordinary degree, and 100 per cent less than graduates with an honours degree”.

    Before and after..

    “Adults with an honours degree in Ireland earn 100 per cent more than those whose highest educational attainment is the Leaving Certificate. Adults with a higher certificate or ordinary degree earn 31 per cent more, according to OECD data.

    Proofreaders did serve a purpose.

    It’s not clear when The Irish Times corrected the error. The New York Times for example notes a correction at the bottom of a piece.

    On the content I pulled together some data yesterday that show quantity and quality diverge at third level in Europe.

    http://www.finfacts.ie/irishfinancenews/article_1028878.shtml

  3. The Paper of Record!!…….nuff said!!

    If there are not enough women professors, then the criteria for professorships will have to be changed, to encourage more entrants.

    Move the goal posts!

  4. @Frank Barry

    OK, o.k. Presumably they meant 98% v. 2% in respect of the ratio of male-to-female professorships? Does it matter if they get the numbers wrong on this,or on other issues?

    The reality for most young Irish people is that, right now, the best place to be in Ireland is out of Ireland. The great cities of the world – London and New York in particular – offer opportunities for professional development that simply do not exist in Dublin. The UK, US, EU, Australia, Japan; that’s where they are going – and Canada too – seeking fulfilment and opportunity and ,dare I say it, a bit of fun in their lives as well

    I don’t know if any economists have looked at this, but the urban destinations of our emigrants might tell us something of importance in terms of future policy choices. This applies both to our education system and its products, as well as to a keener appreciation of the reality of what a small state like Ireland has to offer in terms of career opportunties to highly qualified and ambitious young people.

    The IT figures may be daft. But who cares? Most of those who should care have left, and have no intention of cever oming back. As for the rest of us, we gave up believing anything we read in the media about the irish economy, and its incipient fortunes, or malaises, a long time ago.

  5. Methought I heard A Minister today state that negligible risk means no risk.

    The states are in safe hands!

    And in academia ‘minor plagiarism’ runs to a quarter million. Wonder what a serious one would run for?

    Then again, Rubert CEO of FOXyNewz is retiring …

    Prob again, the most odiously dodgy number is Sixty Four Billion …. 64 Billion … wow!

  6. Chill Frank, its only a newspaper. A headline in The Conversation recently said the number of hedgehogs in Britain declined by 3,600% no less. In fact it was 97%.

  7. Getting row and column percentages mixed up happens so often that I am sure you could write a decent book on real world consequences if you had enough time.

    Also distinguishing between percent and percentage point differences is confusing for the vast majority of people including experts. Many medical journals now have concrete guidelines forcing authors to give the base percentage and the comparison percentage rather than just expressing percentage changes. The conventions across science are not applied very well and some journals still have reporting conventions that will cause obvious confusion. It is even worse in the policy world. In discussions of tax this issue creates havoc. A Minister moving a tax rate from 40% to 42% is rapidly reported as moving a tax by 5 per cent which is true but not surprising people will then think the tax is moving to 45%. Finance professionals use basis points to avoid confusion with percentage changes which has the added advantage of creating terminology confusing to outsiders.

    With respect to earning 200% less than someone, our brain probably feels indignantly that given someone making 100k can be said to earn 200% of someone earning 50k (or 100% more) why can’t the person on 50k say they earn 100% less rather than having to put up with the less emphatic half as much!

    There are many of these and I am not aware of a decent book that summarises them.

  8. @ Veronica, I don’t think they meant 98% versus 2%. It wasn’t a simple typo. It was something much more convoluted. Maybe the ratio of male to female profs is 9 to 2, or maybe 9% of male lecturers are profs while 2% of female lecturers are (though the first sounds more likely to me than the second). My point is that the language used communicates nothing whatsoever.

  9. The topic of the fall in the standards of numeracy is certainly worth a thread.
    But there are others e.g. the likely course of events with regard to Greece this weekend. At least, the topic made the lead in the newspaper of record today!

    An interesting party game would be to allot the roles of the various Greek players to possible Irish counterparts, the role of Varoufakis in particular, in the event of the AAA, and various associated parties, making a breakthrough in the next election.

    As one commentator put it, you wait for years for a new political party and three arrive at one time.

  10. This is from an article on grade inflation in the Irish Times 2 March 2010:

    “There has been a 180 per cent decrease in the number of [pass] degrees awarded by Trinity in the period from 2005-2008.”

    I wondered at the time what the writer might have meant.

  11. Headline in the Sunday Times (June 14th): “Irish Buyers burnt by sun cream price hikes”

    Thinking that this was about some large price increases, I read on and came across the following: “Irish consumers are paying up to 260% more for a bottle of sun cream than their counterparts in Britain”.

    Fine, but the devil is in the detail: “One product … costs €14.99 … on Irish shelves. However the same product (at a conversion rate of 1.369) retails at €4.15in Britain, 261% cheaper than in Ireland”.

    This piece is by Siobhan Maguire, who should get a special prize for (a) mixing up > and < , (b) the old 100% + lesser-than fallacy and ( c) confusing levels with rates of change (a.k.a. “hikes” in the tabloid press). All in a few lines!

  12. Greek maths are still the cause of disagreement. The Blog below, by the IMF, summarises the issues from the Fund’s perspective. The previous medium term target for Greece’s primary surplus has been reduced to 3.5% (from 4.5%) with a lower figure over the next two years, including 1% in 2015.The Fund’s view is that pay and pensions have to be cut as they account for 75% of primary spending.
    The conclusion is that additional funding from creditors will be required and some debt relief, via term extensions and lower rates, although any further downward adjustment to the primary surplus target would imply debt haircuts.

    http://blog-imfdirect.imf.org/2015/06/14/greece-a-credible-deal-will-require-difficult-decisions-by-all-sides/

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