Economists Do It With Models

Warning: “graphic” content…

Bookmark and Share
On The Importance Of Context, Oil Spill (And Itchy & Scratchy) Edition…

July 22nd, 2010 · 2 Comments
Fun With Data · The Simpsons

Let me be clear- I am not pro-oil spill, nor am I anti-bird (except possibly my friend Spencer’s bird who pooped in my hair once). As photographic evidence, I submit to the jury Exhibit A:

(Before you get all on me for not having an econ book in the picture, keep in mind that I was 12.)

That said, it’s important to keep numbers in perspective when you hear them reported by the media. For example, from Marginal Revolution:

Number of birds killed by the BP oil spill: at least 2,188 and counting.

Number of birds killed by wind farms: 10,000-40,000 annually.

Number of birds killed by cars: 80 million annually.

Number of birds killed by cats: Hundreds of millions to 1 billion annually.

Don’t worry there is some good news.

Number of birds killed by fisheries: tens to hundreds of thousands annually (fortunately for the birds, some of these fisheries are now shut down).

Now, if you want to bitch about the methodology of this comparison (and there are some valid gripes), I implore you to do so on the original post rather than here. Furthermore, I am well aware that the number of birds killed is not the only measure of how devastating an environmental disaster is. I point out this series of estimates to highlight the fact that it’s very easy to use numbers to mislead when you don’t give any context for the numbers. If I were to say “thousands of birds have been lost due to the Deepwater Horizon disaster,” that sounds pretty bad, right? And it is, don’t get me wrong. But if we’re going to pick on oil on ornithological grounds, it’s appropriate to apply that same standard to other activities as well. All I’m asking for here is consistency, ok? I mean, I indirectly kill somewhere approaching 100 birds a year all on my own…mmmm, tastes like chicken…

When you start looking for it, it becomes clear just how often people and organizations use out of context and/or misleading data to make a point. I mean, Mr. Burns even manages to supposedly illustrate how his power plant is safer than wind power:

Itchy, Scratchy and Wind Power

Funny what conclusions you can draw when you compare the benefits of one thing to the costs of another. Wind power, the silent killer…Don Quixote had better be careful.

Tags: Fun With Data · The Simpsons

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Joao Pedro Afonso // Jul 23, 2010 at 10:07 am

    A good post has the power of extend our frontiers. From yours I went to the original source, then to other pertaining to actions to reduce bird mortality in wind farms, then too… Thanks for the voyage!

    At the some time, I gained sense of unknown undercurrents to me, of which I’m only seeing reactions. The piece commented is clearly constructed as a provocation: from deep-water disaster with death toll counted to a ridiculous unit precision, we jump to the wind-farms (marketed as environment friendly), then to… But what it is target of that provocation? I could only thought, “yes, there are deaths, but, so what?”. If instead of birds, they had used fish instead, could they have attained the same purpose (DW, big number maybe, farm winds, zero, and so one and so one)? I’m using these alternative hooks and baits to understand what is going on. I suppose I’m a living proof of the importance of the context: reading without be aware of the right one, and I’ll be likely totally lost.

    PS.: I think one of the parrots you are holding in the photo, was my teacher of Economy.

  • 2 Helaine1969 // Dec 2, 2011 at 11:52 pm

    I needed to create you the little word to help say thanks a lot again for those stunning methods you’ve contributed here. It is quite open-handed of people like you to give publicly just what a number of us could have supplied for an e book to end up making some cash on their own, and in particular now that you could have tried it in case you decided. These tactics likewise served as the good way to be certain that most people have the same fervor just as my personal own to find out more with regards to this problem. I know there are millions of more fun opportunities in the future for individuals that see your blog.

Leave a Comment