Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

Archive for March 26th, 2016

The rule of zero

with 2 comments

Randall Munroe

One thing that bothers me is large numbers presented without context. We’re always seeing things like, “This canal project will require 1.15 million tons of concrete.” It’s presented as if it should mean something to us, as if numbers are inherently informative. So we feel like if we don’t understand it, it’s our fault.

But I have only a vague idea of what one ton of concrete looks like. I have no idea what to think of a million tons. Is that a lot? It’s clearly supposed to sound like a lot, because it has the word “million” in it…A good rule of thumb might be, “If I added a zero to this number, would the sentence containing it mean something different to me?” If the answer is “no,” maybe the number has no business being in the sentence in the first place.

Randall Munroe, in an interview with Five Thirty Eight

Written by nevalalee

March 26, 2016 at 7:30 am

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