Making the numbers work

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John O'Connor, editorial director, McKnight's Long-Term Care News
John O'Connor, editorial director, McKnight's Long-Term Care News
I prefer not to think of myself as an angry person who gets annoyed by every little thing. I'm much more comfortable seeing myself as an angry person who gets annoyed by little things with the power to infuriate.

This includes, but is not limited to, people who play silly games with numbers.

My favorites are the gas station operators who universally add “.9” to their listed prices. Really? Shouldn't there be a law against asking for payments in denominations that don't actually exist? Or is a nine-tenths-of-a-penny-coin now being minted?

Worse are the people who feel entitled to arbitrarily add some kind of expectations scale to numbers-related information. For example, the bean counters at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services just released a study on medical expenditures in 2009. They noted that the total rose by 3.9%. So why are so many media outlets now informing us of a spending decrease?

Well, apparently a 3.9% uptick wasn't as high as some had expected. Do these same people tell their bosses they are asking for a 4% pay cut – because they'd really like a 10% raise but are willing to settle for only 6% more than the previous year?

As Mark Twain noted more than a century ago, figures lie and liars figure. Makes you wonder what he would have thought about the gasoline companies. Or the way many reporters try to do math.

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Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editor's Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor on Monday and Friday; Staff Writer Tim Mullaney on Tuesday, Editor James M. Berklan on Wednesday and Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman on Thursday.