Friday, February 12, 2010

Like Reporting Fahrenheit As Celsius

When European news papers report temperatures in America, they usually don't take the Fahrenheit temperatures and report it as for example "30 degrees" when the temperature is 30 degrees Fahrenheit somewhere in America. That would create the misleading impression for readers, used to the Celsius scale, that it is very hot there (30 degrees Celsius is pretty hot, the equivalent to 86 degrees Fahrenheit), when in fact the temperature is below the freezing point. For the same reason, American media outlets reporting about temperatures in Europe usually don't take the Celsius number and present it simply as for example 20 degrees. That would create the misleading impression that it is cold there, when in fact the temperature is the equivalent of 68 degrees Fahrenheit.

So why then do American media outlets report for example France's fourth quarter growth rate as 0.6% while European media outlets report America's fourth quarter growth rate as 5.7%? For both American and European readers this creates the misleading impression that growth in the U.S. was nearly 10 times higher, whereas in reality it was only about 2.3 times higher. When reporting about European numbers, American media outlets should "translate" them to the American way of expressing growth, which in the case of France would have been about 2.4%, while European media outlets should "translate" the American growth number into the European way of expressing growth, which in this case would have been 1.4%?

For me and many others who are aware of this issue, this is not really a problem, but most people will probably be misled by the failure of financial journalists to not only fail to translate the numbers, but also not inform readers of this issue.

For those of you (whether you are financial journalists or not) who are unfamiliar with the differences in how growth is presented in America, Europe and China, see my previous post on the subject for a thorough explanation.