Numerical Context

We make sense of the world around us with help of numbers. They are everywhere. Not just in critical things like your body-mass index, the credit card debt or the speed limit on a highway but also in things that don’t affect you so much you like number of calories in that steak, the number of likes received by your latest status update or clinical trials data on a new drug. But numbers on their own mean little. They need to be put in context.

We do well in being able to put some of them in context (for eg. comparing your current speed with the speed limit) but most of the numbers that don’t directly affect us we don’t put in context. For example, what does a £15 billion cut in the UK defence budget over a decade mean? Looks like a big number but in actuality with a defence budget of about £45 billion per annum, over 10 years it’s less than 4% overall cut. Is that good or bad? With a £175 billion budget deficit and £1 trillion public debt, I’ll let you decide.

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