Does anyone now remember the theme park that was to be built in north Co. Dublin?
It was to cost €7 billion, cover 2,500 acres, provide 40,000 jobs and attract 37 million visitors annually. When the county council decided it was implausible, the developers declared they would go and build it somewhere else in Europe.
Even a National School pupil could have worked out that the numbers never added up; even if the entire population of the state had made an annual visit, the remaining number of visitors would have represented a total that was twice the annual traffic of Dublin Airport.
To be fair to the developers, a slight fuzziness when it comes to numbers is not exclusive to the construction industry. Our national broadcaster and leading newspaper show a similar lack of basic arithmetical skills.
RTE television reported last evening that 675,000 people had attended the parade in Dublin.
675,000, eh? That’s some crowd.
The route covers 2.5 kilometres, 2,500 metres. Let’s be charitable to the reporter and pretend that the entire crowd were leprechauns and that they needed no more than half a metre, 50 centimetres, of pavement on which to stand.
So, we have our leprechauns lined up shoulder to shoulder along a route of 2,500 metres, that’s 5,000 little people in a row to line the route. There are pavements on both sides of the street, so 10,000 would line the route on both sides. But we have 675,000 to account for; that would mean 67 rows of them – 33 rows on either side.
If the crowd is composed not of fairy folk, but of Dubliners of varying sizes, not all of whom want to stand in physical contact with strangers, a metre of space might be more realistic, meaning that a line of 2,500 people would stretch the 2.5 kilometres of the route. “Do the math” as American visitors might say.
The crowds on either side of the street would have needed to be more than sixty deep for there to be a crowd of 675,000.
Never let the facts get in the way of a good story though; the Irish Times, our newspaper of record repeats the figure in this morning’s news. The figure there is attributed to the organisers: would it not occur to the reporter to do some sums?
Our economy has reached its present parlous state because numbers were repeatedly accepted without question. It was an act of heresy to suggest that there was a finite number on the number of properties needed; to question how prices could continue to rise and rise was to be told that we didn’t understand. Such matters should be left to the ‘experts’; they knew about banking and economic matters.
When David McWilliams suggested in 2006 that we were all being subjected to a huge confidence trick, the experts were dismissive of such suggestions.
Reporting that 675,000 lined the streets of Dublin suggests that our faculty for dealing with numbers has not improved over the past three years, and if we can still be taken in over the simple stuff, we are in serious trouble when things get complicated.