17 April 2007


The story of the 20-plus students dead in Virginia dominates the news, but the barrage of Iraqi civilians that died (or even just the 60 Iraqi students killed a month ago) are all but ignored. Bush visited the school and yet he hadn't attended any funerals of US soldiers killed in Iraq. Reddit recently had a lengthy discussion on the injustice of the word-count of Wikipedia articles dedicated to styles of light-saber fighting compared to those dedicated to Shakespeare. I was in a similar discussion a while back comparing Wikipedia word counts for The Matrix movies and matrices in mathematics. Noam Chomsky compared the line inches of news stories on the massacres in East Timor with lesser events and found unfortunately expected results. A whole cottage industry could-be-and-probably-has-been created on the discrepancies between representation of like subjects.

Looking at my own blog entries, I see that word count does not translate to a metric of importance. Certainly I've cared enough to take the time to write about my recent purchase of the Prokofiev Piano Sonatas and the idiot history contained in that 300 movie, but those were random interests that hit while I was near the computer. And neither were censored beforehand for being too personal or too involved to research fully (who has time for research these days?!?). But then, my blog is hardly the ideal model for misapplying metrics.

I also think about Schneier's constant warnings on misapplying security (More people are killed every year by pigs than by sharks, which shows you how good we are at evaluating risk.) This is sort of the reverse of a counting error. In certain situations, we respond to a false perception of how many or how much. In others, we may force a commonality to compare.

[ posted by sstrader on 17 April 2007 at 8:54:38 AM in Language & Literature ]