Numbers have a specificity that is irresistible to our embattled minds. That’s why cops give you a ticket for 87 mph in a 75 mph zone and not to someone else for “unimaginably idiotic attempts to maneuver an automobile in the presence of others.” The mildly observant might well see more of the latter but a radar gun communicates in numbers and not judgments.
The absence of judgment when it comes to dealing in numbers is also commonly evident in the fascination with such statistics as 0-60 times and miles-per-gallon.
The latter I’ll deal with at length but first a word about the sad young (I’m assuming) car buffs who write to magazines saying: “you rated XCar over YCar yet your own statistics show YCar did 0-60 in 5.9 second and XCar couldn’t even get under 6 seconds”.
Would that the real world were so simple. Do I need to go into the variables inherent in registering a 0-60 time? Start with driver, weather, altitude, density…? Most of those factors also matter in what is now the numbered statistics under constant discussion on the Web these days…miles per gallon. As If this number is now the major deal breaker when it comes to deciding which small car to buy.
Indeed, maybe it is. But should it be?