John Quiggin has a blog with the tag line “Commentary on Australian & world events from a social-democratic perspective,” offering intelligent discussion on a mix of political and economic topics. This particular article, Two Billion Examples of Innumeracy, discusses the notion that 2 billion people would be watching the British Royal Wedding. It doesn’t take too much logic to look at the world population and realize that 2 billion is an absurd number. Over 1/4 of the world is living without electricity, and when you continue looking at the facts, it comes down to some sub 500 million number. One web site put the final number at 300 million or so. In line with John’s estimate of 250M as a high end number.
What’s important here isn’t getting the number accurate to 1% or even 10%. It’s being off by a factor of 7 that’s so unsettling. Estimating large numbers with a 50% accuracy has its place, and this is one example of the media getting it so wrong.