Have you noted how many magazines now have short sections devoted to statistics, some mundane, some simply gobsmacking? Harper’s Magazine’s monthly Index is probably the best known of the lists, but I’ve found that more and more of the magazines I read have a column or two of them. 

Culled from some of the more recent ones:

  • 80% = reduction in the CDC budget for combating global disease outbreaks
  • 45 = days between the first outbreak of COVID-19 in China and its reporting of that outbreak to the World Health Organization
  • 43 = days between the WHO’s declaration of a public health emergency and the White House’s declaration of emergency
  • 2 = days between President Trump’s claim that we had the virus under “tremendous control” and his statement that he always knew we were engaged in battling a pandemic.  (those were from Nation magazine)

And from recent Harper’s Index pages:

  • 7 = number of current Trump Administration members who were Fox News contributors
  • 2 = factor by which Americans go to the library than go to the movies (I found this one reassuring)
  • 26% = decrease in the number of full-time public school librarians in the United States (I found this discouraging)
  • 17,680,000 = number of dead-end streets in the world
  • ¼ = proportion of those streets that are in the United States (there’s a metaphor here somewhere)
  • 0.8% (yes, that’s less than 1%) = average percentage of their fortunes that the 20 richest Americans gave to charity in 2018 (keep in mind that figure would include the charitable giving of Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, which is large)
  • 36% = percentage of Americans who think the Chinese government is sometimes or very often a source of disinformation as well as the percentage who think that CNN is (does that have anything to do with dead-end streets?

Snippets of information rarely provide us with context or robust understanding, but they can nag at the corners of our mind.