Math · News

Numbers Mean Things

So I saw this headline in The Washington Post:

UN envoy says $5 billion malaria fight has saved several thousand lives in recent years

My first thought was, “$5 billion divided by, let’s say 5000 people, that comes out to a million bucks per person saved. A noble result, to be sure, but isn’t there a more cost-effective way of achieving the same result?”

Then I read the first paragraph:

UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. chief’s envoy for malaria says a $5 billion campaign has saved several hundred thousand lives in recent years, keeping international efforts on track to virtually end deaths from the mosquito-borne disease by 2015.

(emphasis added) and now the cost per person drops two orders of magnitude, from $1 million to $10,000. Much more reasonable (though it’d still be nice if it were even cheaper).

But I suspect that either the reporter, or someone at AP or WaPo decided that the word “hundred” didn’t change the meaning enough to make it worth taking up valuable headline space. I’m sorry, but it does.

Then again, what’s two orders of magnitude among friends?

(Cross-posted at UMDSI.)