### Unweaving the rainbow of news

I've often moaned about the poor use of statistics in the news. Today it's more a case of a total absence of stats, which could have put a story into context and would have made it more informative.

In the story shown, we learn that 'everyone says it's incredible' that a mother born on Feb 29 should have a child also born on leap year day.

But if the journo could have just taken a moment to think, he or she could have put this into useful context. It certainly seems incredible if you misapply statistics and think there's a 1 in 1,461 chance of the mother being born on Feb 29, and similarly for a totally randomly occurring baby, making it a 1 in 2.13 million  chance of the double. But that's just wrong because it's telling us about the chances of a randomly picked baby being in this situation, not the chances of the situation occurring this Feb 29th.

About 700,000 babies will be born in the UK this year, so with a 1 in 1,461 chance of the mother being born on Feb 29th, around 479 of this year's babies should be born to leap year day mothers. Of these, we'd expect one or two to be born on Feb 29th. Not that remarkable, then. (In practice things are a little more complex, as more babies are born at certain times, etc., but it's roughly right.)

There is always the 'unweaving the rainbow' argument aimed at Newton. Those who take this position argue that the facts get in the way of the poetry of the story. But I would argue it's possible to still find the story interesting, while being better informed by the context. Journalists would never tell us a political story without context - it's a shame (possibly because they don't know how to) that they ignore it in a statistical story.

1. An intriguing story Brian. I'd never heard of the term "leapling"!

2. Me neither… could they have made it up?

### Why I hate opera

If I'm honest, the title of this post is an exaggeration to make a point. I don't really hate opera. There are a couple of operas - notably Monteverdi's Incoranazione di Poppea and Purcell's Dido & Aeneas - that I quite like. But what I do find truly sickening is the reverence with which opera is treated, as if it were some particularly great art form. Nowhere was this more obvious than in ITV's recent gut-wrenchingly awful series Pop Star to Opera Star , where the likes of Alan Tichmarsh treated the real opera singers as if they were fragile pieces on Antiques Roadshow, and the music as if it were a gift of the gods. In my opinion - and I know not everyone agrees - opera is: Mediocre music Melodramatic plots Amateurishly hammy acting A forced and unpleasant singing style Ridiculously over-supported by public funds I won't even bother to go into any detail on the plots and the acting - this is just self-evident. But the other aspects need some ex

### Is 5x3 the same as 3x5?

The Internet has gone mildly bonkers over a child in America who was marked down in a test because when asked to work out 5x3 by repeated addition he/she used 5+5+5 instead of 3+3+3+3+3. Those who support the teacher say that 5x3 means 'five lots of 3' where the complainants say that 'times' is commutative (reversible) so the distinction is meaningless as 5x3 and 3x5 are indistinguishable. It's certainly true that not all mathematical operations are commutative. I think we are all comfortable that 5-3 is not the same as 3-5.  However. This not true of multiplication (of numbers). And so if there is to be any distinction, it has to be in the use of English to interpret the 'x' sign. Unfortunately, even here there is no logical way of coming up with a definitive answer. I suspect most primary school teachers would expands 'times' as 'lots of' as mentioned above. So we get 5 x 3 as '5 lots of 3'. Unfortunately that only wor

### Which idiot came up with percentage-based gradient signs

Rant warning: the contents of this post could sound like something produced by UKIP. I wish to make it clear that I do not in any way support or endorse that political party. In fact it gives me the creeps. Once upon a time, the signs for a steep hill on British roads displayed the gradient in a simple, easy-to-understand form. If the hill went up, say, one yard for every three yards forward it said '1 in 3'. Then some bureaucrat came along and decided that it would be a good idea to state the slope as a percentage. So now the sign for (say) a 1 in 10 slope says 10% (I think). That 'I think' is because the percentage-based slope is so unnatural. There are two ways we conventionally measure slopes. Either on X/Y coordiates (as in 1 in 4) or using degrees - say at a 15° angle. We don't measure them in percentages. It's easy to visualize a 1 in 3 slope, or a 30 degree angle. Much less obvious what a 33.333 recurring percent slope is. And what's a 100% slope