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Apr 7, 2011

Just how much is a BILLION dollars?

Its budget time in Washington and we hear a lot of big numbers being thrown around. But just how big are these numbers?

Thanks to Wayne Cornelius of the Raleigh, North Carolina LPF Chapter for this piece.

I saw this image in the latest issue of the statistical journal, Significance. (Our friend, Dennis Boos, has contributed to Significance on other topics, by the way. But he’s not involved with this work.) It reminded me of the accordion-folded graph about the U.S. national budget that was circulated at last year’s State Fair Peace Booth. The author is a London-based journalist. In his own words,

This image arose out of frustration with media reporting of billion dollar amounts. That is, that they’re meaningless without context. But they’re continually reported as self-evident facts. 500 billion for this war. 50 billion for this pipeline. Literally mind-boggling amounts of money.So here we’ve scraped reported figures from The New York Times, The Guardian, and other news outlets and visualized them as a treemap (?). So you can see in one place figures that would otherwise be scattered across multiple news reports. Credit for the graphic and interpretation, David McCandless,2009 Creative Commons license ( Data:

One further note: When you see a BILLION mentioned in the foreign press, it could be off by a magnitude because there is no common definition of how much a billion or a trillion is!