Monday, May 4, 2009

Learning Large Numbers

The slew of numbers coming out of Federal programs, from the $1.25 trillion that the Federal Reserve will spend on asset purchases to the Obama administrations $3.5 trillion budget, have many struggling to figure out how to comprehend these numbers.

NPR took an academic approach. Video bloggers have taken to using piles of pennies to represent the budget The online project, Econ4U, who recently took out large ads in DC Metro stations, did stand-up interviews asking "How Many Millions Are in a Trillion?" Only 21 percent of respondents got the question right.*

The concern is great and if the goal is simply to inform people it's doing a good job. Yet any hopes that people might apply, or that that matter retain, their knowledge suffers from the same problems that "awareness" movements always have: how to turn knowledge into action. Given the struggles people have to exercise or eat right despite an array of knowledge on health, convincing them to act on difficult to conceive deficits with abstract comparisons may not be an effective pressure on policy.

*The correct answer is a million million.

1 comment:

Layne S said...

Let's just go to scientific notation and have everyone give up unanimously except for those special people who actually like scientific notation.