Department of Awful Statistics

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The Washington Post casts a critical eye over its corrections:


A recent Post story said that of the $1.3 million the D.C. Salvation Army collected during its annual Red Kettle fundraising drive last year, about $667,000 came from outside local Giant supermarkets.

"That's a little less than half of the group's holiday total," The Post reported.

"It's actually a little more than half," an annoyed reader e-mailed. "When a journalist gets numbers wrong or does the math and gets that wrong, it reflects badly on the journalist, his employer, and news purveyors in general."

A review of published corrections for the past three months shows that few days passed without a numbers error. I regularly hear complaints that numbers in Post stories don't add up.

Some involve faulty statistics. Others result from math errors. Many are inexplicable, such as lastTuesday's A-section story that said new industry-wide health-care rules, "will affect about 180 Americans with private insurance" (it should have been 180 million).

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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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