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January 27
2014年1月27日

亂引用數字

Way Cool Blog


 

2012年8月,颱風颳進上海,巿長說話了,他「會儘量想辦法不讓人因風災而死」。

阻止災難不是用想的,也不是「儘量想辦法」,而應該即時採取行動。

這讓我想起二十幾年前,美國人喝可樂,有人在可樂罐中發現針尖。大公司的老總接受 CNN 訪問,很有自信的說道:「發生這種問題的機會只有百萬分之一。」

英文用「not in a million」來形容發生的機率很低。行嗎?

我聽了 CNN 的報導,心想,這位老總完了。果不其然,他很快就為自己的失言道歉、辭職。假使一天賣五百萬瓶可樂,百萬分之一的機會,豈不表示有五瓶可樂罐裏藏針尖。未免太可怕了吧!

如果不懂統計,就不要亂引數字,更不要亂講話!如果以亂講話做為當代社會的一個指標,那我們離國際化的當代社會是否存在相當的距離?

註:本文曾載於聯合報(2014年1月16日)。

Misquoting numbers

In August 2012, a typhoon hit Shanghai. The mayor said he would "try to come up with every means to prevent any person from dying from the typhoon".

Natural disasters cannot be prevented by empty talk, or by "trying to come up with every means". Instead, one should take instant action. This story reminded me of an incident that took place some twenty years ago. An American found a tiny needle in a can of Coca-Cola. When asked in an interview with CNN for the odds of such an incident occurring, the CEO of Coca-Cola said with confidence: "One in a million". In English, "one in a million" coveys improbability. But one cannot help wondering whether "one in a million" is acceptable in this case.

When I saw the CNN report, I thought to myself, "This executive is doomed." Sure enough, he had to apologise and resign. Given that Coca-Cola sells five million bottles a day, "one in a million" means five bottles a day will contain needles!

If you do not have sufficient knowledge about statistics, you should refrain from quoting numbers or making willful comments. Aren't we falling far short of international standards if we judge our society by using the frequencies of how numbers are misquoted as an indicator?

Note:
This article was originally published in Chinese in the United Daily News (16 January, 2014).

January 27, 2014

 

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