Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe
Numbers are treacherous and percentages more so than most numbers.
I just spotted this headline on a Tribune Company site: "Construction up highest amount in nearly 10 years."
And I misread it to say: "Construction up to highest amount in nearly 10 years."
Which certainly isn't the case. The word highest is deceptive. The story refers to a jump, so a better headline would have said biggest or largest — amount. Those are the adjectives used in the AP story the head was written for.
But biggest amount measured how? In dollars and cents? No. The AP tells us, "Construction shot up 2.7 percent last month [April actually] compared to March, the Commerce Department said Tuesday. It was the biggest one-month improvement since August 2000." The AP said construction "surged."
When construction's at rock bottom, a jump of 2.7 percent isn't nearly as big a surge as it would be if construction were booming. (As in, 2.7 percent of 0 is 0.) How many months have there been since August 2000 when construction, measured in dollars and cents, increased by more than it just increased? A lot of months, I bet, though the article doesn't tell us, perhaps because if it did the news wouldn't sound so newsy.