When a major news organization (NPR in this case) makes reference to mathematics. And not just reference to second-grade mathematics, but actually uses the term “exponentially.” Things must really be bad, if they have to stretch their tiny little minds around 6th-grade math. A Frightening Curve: How Fast Is The Ebola Outbreak Growing? : Goats and Soda : NPR.
Of course when their hero and chief, uses the word, they don’t have a lot of choice – even if they feel like their heads are about to explode.
“It’s spreading and growing exponentially,” President Obama said Tuesday. “This is a disease outbreak that is advancing in an exponential fashion,” said Dr. David Nabarro, who is heading the U.N.’s effort against Ebola.
Then of course they feel compelled to give a reprise of 6th-grade math to define what ‘exponentially’ means without actually using the word ‘exponent.’ That is quite a bit of legerdemain, even for a group of journalism professionals who couldn’t balance their check-book, if they ever bothered to try. (I’m sure there is an app for that.) They don’t get it quite right. Are you surprised?
Of course the math-challenged at NPR didn’t want to believe it.
When we first heard about these numbers, they sounded a bit alarmist. But then a few other modelers published their own models. The forecast is consistent: There’s exponential growth with somewhere around 15,000 cases by mid-October.
But then epidemiology is really a branch of statistics. And besides, math is hard. And science involves a lot of math, so can’t we go back to covering stories about Scotland? (Braveheart was such cool movie!)
I expect the next major story to be that this Ebola outbreak will spread somewhere – the near east, or Asia perhaps. Or even to the west, though we have a better chance of containing it than people who kill the folks disinfecting public spaces.