Thursday, July 13, 2006

[Sigh!] Everyone get out your calculators...

...and follow along as, yet again, I explain how poorly numbers are treated in the popular press.

The article in question is from today's Daily Mail, the lively British paper. The headline reads: "Drivers face £5 gallon as prices hit record high". I took a quick look at The Universal Currency Converter to get the current exchange rate for pounds and US dollars. £5 works out to $9.21. What???!!! $9.21 for a gallon of gas in England???!!!

Taking a calming sip of tea, I examined the article more closely. The first paragraph reads:
The average price of petrol at the pumps has reached a record high, with drivers paying an average 96.85p a litre, it was announced today.

I've done this calculation for you before, but I'm afraid I'm going to have to do it for the benefit of the editors of the Daily Mail. Here's how to convert pence per liter to dollars per gallon:

1 U.S. gallon = 3.78541 liters

1 US$ = 0.543253 UK£
(source:, as of 02:20 UT, 14-Jul-2006)

1 UK£ = 100 pence

Lets put that all together:

(96.85p/litre) x (1 UK£/100 p) x (1 US$/0.543253 UK£) x (3.78541 liters/gal.) =


So $9.21/gal. vs. $6.75/gal. What does that work out to in £/gal.? We just eliminate the conversion from pounds to dollars in the above formula to arrive at £3.67/gal. Not £5. I think that the editors of the Daily Mail were trying a little too hard to juice up their headline. Just a bit.

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