I have a pet peeve. Don’t we all, you say! Sure, but I have a website, so there! My pet peeve—actually, I have a number of them, but you’re only getting one tonight—has to do with the penchant we have for extreme (and meaningless) precision in numbers reporting. Take today’s Watchtower. (An excellent article, by the way) According to paragraph 12, we have printed more than 178,545,862 copies of the New World Translation. Why can’t we just say more than 178 million have been printed, or more than 178.5 million have been printed, or even more than 178,545,000 have been printed? But NOOO! We have to specify down to single units. This is so that all of us can rest assured that those last 862 copies didn’t go amiss. Not only that! There are actually more than the 862. Maybe 178,545,863, or 178,545,864, or, and this is way out there, but there may actually be 178,545,865. (w13 2/15 p. 6 par. 12)
So again, what is this penchant we have in declaring huge numbers down to the last significant digit? That’s a mathematical term, because in a real world context, there’s nothing significant about it. In fact, with numbers that large, there isn’t any significance to the last 3 digits, maybe even that last 6. Seriously, do those last 862 Bibles really mean anything to you, gentle reader? Can you wrap your mind around 178 million? I did the math. Stacking that many bibles would give you a column close to 3,000 miles high. The International space station only orbits at 220 miles. 3,000 miles of stacked bibles! And the last 862? They wouldn’t even make it across your Kingdom hall parking lot.
So what is this overweening obsession with precision? According to the 2012 Yearbook, we spent 1,707,094,710 hours in field service. We could have said ‘more than 1.7 billion’. That would make the point, wouldn’t it? But that wouldn’t be fair to those poor souls who labored to put in that last 710. Oh no! We need to record and report every hour. This assumes, of course, that all 7,394,672 of us reported every hour and quarter hour with due diligence, because if we start fudging the numbers, well that would never do. The very fabric of society would fall away. There would be chaos.
We are told that we track numbers with such precision because that is what was done in Bible times.
Let me ask you this. How many were at the meeting at Pentecost when Matthias was appointed to take the place vacated by Judas and holy spirit was first poured out on the Christian congregation—arguably one of the most important meetings of all time?
120, you say? AIHRR! Wrong!
“(the crowd of persons was all together about one hundred and twenty)” — Acts 1:15
What!? They weren’t capable of counting with more precision? They had to round to the nearest ten? Surely someone had remembered to bring his pocket abacus. How many were baptized that day? About 3,000 souls! ABOUT 3,000 SOULS!? We had 262,131 baptized last year, but in the first century, they were simply content to round to the nearest thousand. Sacrilege! (Acts. 2:41)
I don’t know about you, but I blame Henry Ford. Well, not just Henry. I’m sure the insurance industry has had something to do with it, what with their actuarial tables and all. Maybe we got our love of statistics from them.
I think that perhaps we have this idea that if we don’t report every last hour and quarter hour, we are somehow cheating God. Maybe we should let all our statisticians in on a little secret. God can do his own math. He’s actually pretty good at it. I have this from a reliable source. So there is really no need to count down to the last fraction. No need to figure out how old a child is before we can count him as a meeting attendee. (The answer, by the way, is 1 year, 7 months, 12 days, but only if he weighs more than 22 pounds.) No need to water down our Bible Studies statistics by adding in 10-minute door-step studies to the mix. The numbers don’t really mean anything.
We all know what Mark Twain said about lies and statistics. If you don’t, look it up. This site is rate G.
I say: Long live round numbers!
Now I’m going to have 1.257 ounces Scotch. This venting is thirsty work.