Bad mathematical writing and editing

AARGH!  This is from LiveScience.com

The human male releases about 66 million sperm during each … encounter. … since it takes only one sperm to make a baby, there are 59,999,999 extras along for the ride.

Did the writer and editor of this article never learn the concept of “significant figures” in school? Since 66 million is a very approximate figure (it could range from 65,500,000 to 66,499,999), you cannot say that there are 59,999,999 extras if you remove one!

EDIT 7/28: Added link to original article.

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2 Responses

  1. They’re in a no-win situation. If they say there are 66 million extra, then a slew of 4th graders are going to write to them asking why 66 million minus one is 66 million.

  2. True, but this was not from an article for elementary school kids. I just edited the post to put the reference in, and it is a website for adults (or at least high school students)

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