Significant Digits, Vol. 2, Issue 1
By Jason Diley
A year ago we introduced this column and after just three issues I ended up shelving things for the season in order to welcome a new addition to my personal team of number crunchers. He's our second child, but as the author of this collection of numerical oddities, one facet of the whole “new baby experience” jumped out at me. Just after drawing breath number one (of an average of roughly 672,768,000) we start measuring. Within minutes, we had enough data to complete the back of his very own rookie card. The whole process is obviously very emotional… but it's also downright sabermetric. I found myself wondering what the algorithm might be for calculating his WAR(b). That's Wins Above an available Replacement Baby for the uninitiated.
What's more, everyone wanted to know his stats—and for the life of me I can't figure out why. Sure, all the poking and prodding has some place in establishing medically relevant means and modes… but why does my great aunt need me to text his birth weight?
“Wow, what a big boy” (Well, no… statistically, he was in the 50th percentile; smack on the median.)
“Oh, he was really long” (This one was true: 20.5 inches… 90th percentile.)
“How many hours was your wife in labor?” (Eeesh. What a sadistic bell curve that is. Misery loves company, I suppose.)
It all points to our obsession with rankings, with comparison and contrast, with objectifying the subjective, with outliers, with the making of top ten lists . . . and with clicking on the top ten lists of others (You'll never believe who #3 is!).
If the universal question is “What does it all mean?”, then perhaps the universal American question is “How do I stack up?”
Well, he got a 9 on his APGAR, thank you very much. My wife says he's perfect, but I'm an empiricist so as he approaches his first birthday… the best I can give him is “high side of normal”!
Enough naval gazing—let's get back to the stats! In Significant Digits we will try to separate the numerical wheat from the chaff, helping find figures that tell the...[read more]