Two recent Math Mistakes in the News


Neither mistake was horrendous, but one was public nationwide and the other cost a company a $134,000,000 job (and provided the reporter with the best Freudian slip I’ve seen in a long time!)

Back in April, Cynthia McFadden talked about gas prices on Nightline.

In this video she explains:

Tonight, $3.51: that’s the average price nationwide of a single gallon of regular unleaded gasoline. That means a 15-gallon tank now costs more than $50 to fill. As a little reference point, the week George W. Bush was sworn in as president, the price of a gallon of gas was $1.47. Now even accounting for inflation, that’s almost a 200% increase. And since we’re guessing your paycheck hasn’t grown 200% in the past eight years, we asked Vicky Mayberry to head to Arlington, Texas, to see the creative ways people are paying their [bills?].

No, my paycheck hasn’t grown that much, but neither has the price of gas. The difference between $3.51 and $1.47 is $2.04, which is just over 138% of $1.47. In other words, the average price of gas today is more than 238% of what it was eight years ago, but that only amounts to a 138% increase.

And that’s not even taking inflation into account, as the quote indicates we should. According to this site, to convert 2001 dollars into 2008 dollars I need to divide $1.47 by 0.831, giving about $1.77. And now $3.51-$1.77=$1.74, which is approximately 98% of 1.77. So with inflation taken into account, that’s almost a 100% increase. Which is still more than my paycheck has done, but then again according to this article “the price of lettuce, broccoli and apples increased much more than the price of gas” (at least in 2006-07), so it’s hard to know what to compare to what.

A less public but perhaps more distressing (to one company, anyway) mistake was reported on two days ago in the Miami SunPost. The company Skanska USA submitted a bid for a job at the South Dade Wastewater Treatment Plant. They had the lowest bid, but lost to Poole & Kent Company because Skanska USA’s bid had arithmetic mistakes in it. In particular, a decimal point was put in the wrong place. (Yet another example of how real life doesn’t always award partial credit!) They were given a chance to resubmit, but didn’t fix the mistake so they were out of luck. Remember folk: check your work.

As a final note, the SunPost article appears to have misreported the name of the company. Instead of calling it Skanska USA, want to know what they called the company that bid on this Wastewater Treatment job? Skanka USA.


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