Numerical illiteracy: the “40km-wide” Bruderheim blaze

Numerical illiteracy drove Victoria Handysides to report via in a May 20, 2008 article that, “The town of Bruderheim lost five homes after a 40 km-wide [sic] blaze began Thursday afternoon.”

That quote contains two inaccuracies, both exaggerations, one of which is a real whopper, apparently caused by lack of common sense in combination with numerical illiteracy, an inability to comprehend – in realistic and practical ways – numbers that pertain to life in the real world.

It may surprise Victoria Handysides to learn that the town of Bruderheim lost no homes at all in that fire. The homes that were lost comprised homes in the Bruderheim area, almost ten km NW from the town limits, while four families became homeless. Victoria Handysides must have manufactured her facts relating to that; if not, I wonder what news report she used for her claim. She certainly could not have gotten it from anyone in Bruderheim she interviewed. Interview or not, she should have verified her facts with someone who lives in or near Bruderheim, which she obviously neglected to do.

The real whopper, the “40 km-wide blaze”, could have been avoided with nothing more than a bit of common sense, applied through geometry by Victoria Handyside and, more importantly, by her editors. That could and can be done by anyone not living even close to Bruderheim, anyone in the whole wide world.

If the blaze that burned down the homes NW of Bruderheim was 40 km wide, then it would have been at the very least 40 km long. That would have made the blaze one of the largest ever in Canada, involving at least in the order of 1,600 square kilometres or 160,000 hectares.

In addition, Victoria Handysides reported that,

“It was really intense for a time because of the high winds,” Cote said, adding that the streets in the village of 1,500 people were filled with smoke on Thursday. “It was eerie, because it was coming our way, but we set up defences that made sure it didn’t get farther than it did.[“]

There was never any danger that the fire would have put the town of Bruderheim at risk. There simply are too many open fields between the town and the forested area that burned. Moreover, the size of the area that burned comprised a total of about 250 ha, an area of 2.5 square kilometres, far from being 40km wide.

The news provided by Metro are free but also worthless, at least as far as reporting on the blaze near Bruderheim is concerned. One must wonder, though, whether for MetroNews sensationalizing in news reporting is more important than the truth, and perhaps in more subject areas than just 40 km-wide blazes.

At any rate, such whoppers indicate the dumbing-down of our education system in action.

Cc: Victoria Handysides

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