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Work in the media? Struggle with statistics? Stan's irreverent (and often irrelevant) review of the latest media reports, news and gossip may not help at all... Stan the Statistician

Stan # 20: Fatal statistics, collective nouns and accountants 8 March 1999

I am told that the US Coastguard Service Search & Rescue report that a significant majority of drowned sailors are found to have their flies undone. Apparently, leaning over the side at night to relieve oneself (known as doing a Maxwell after the late newspaper tycoon who slid over the side a few years ago to avoid public ignominy) can be pretty hazardous. One surprise wave and you're off. That is, a sea wave rather than someone waving at you from a passing ship, though this could equally cause you to take a dip.

Also reported from the American Statistics Office (who said those boys and girls don't have a sense of humour?) is that an average of 250 Americans die each year as a result of falling off bar stools backwards while trying to catch peanuts in their mouths. I don't have a figure for the percentage whose last act on this Earth was to be successful at this trick.

The North of Norway enjoyed (if that's the right word) the coldest weather in a century in late January when temperatures dropped to -51.2C. Nippy. Television viewers were entertained by a news report showing a man emptying a cup of hot water only for it to turn into a cloud of ice cystals before reaching the ground. It's all to do with global warming I suppose.

On one of my recent desktops, I asked for suggestions for a collective noun for interviewers. A gaggle (or giggle) seems to have been the most popular choice. However, there are official collective nouns for many groups. What would you call groups of:

goats, ravens, birds (not flock), geese, hares, snipe, nightingales, clergymen, toads, crows, moles and peacocks. As usual, no prizes. Answers on my next desktop.

According to the trade Journal, Pass, one in six young accountants (I reckon all accountants are old and grey) admitted to taking drugs. Of course, those of us lucky enough to work in market research know that what people say and what they actually do may not be the same thing. Maybe there are a lot more young accountants taking drugs who won't admit it. Though my guess is that hardly any young accountants take drugs; it's just that they feel the need to beef up their image. The survey revealed that one in four accountants worked so hard that they did not have time for a social life. Maybe they did have great social lives, it's just with all those drugs they couldn't actually remember it. Do you remember that Monty Python sketch where Michael Palin wanted to chuck in accountancy for lion taming and John Cleese, as a careers counsellor, advised against it? "You are an appallingly dull fellow, unimaginative, timid, lacking in initiative, spineless, easily dominated, no sense of humour and irrepressibly drab", he said. "In most professions, these would be considered drawbacks. In chartered accountancy, they are a positive boon." I'm sure that group of intrepid accountants working at Asda in Leeds (England) who are avid readers of my desk top, would agree.

What should we call a group of accountants? Please send me your suggestions. I'll offer, 'a drabness', 'a greyness', 'an abacus', 'an orchestra' (lots of fiddlers!). The Kent Messenger (England) carried an advertisement for domestic assistants at the Royal Victoria hospital in Folkestone - £3,739 per hour. No wonder there is always a financial crisis in the National Health Service.

Thousands of American taxpayers have been sent official notices telling them that they have died. The news was blamed on a computer error. As only computers make mistakes these days, who made mistakes before computers? Maybe that's why we use them - the faithful scapegoat. I think I would have replied to the IRS, "Thank you for informing me of my death. I wondered why I hadn't been feeling well lately. I hope that the United States will be able to function in the future without my contribution." So maybe Mark Twain was wrong - the two unavoidable things in life, death and taxes, have been avoided courtesy of the IRS computer.

Check in again at my desk soon!
stan@adweb.co.uk

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