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26 April 2012

Dangerous metaphors #2: figures from those who cannot figure

The purple line terminus at Planernaya. Not what you'd call “state-of-the-art”
Today’s Moscow Times caries a report announcing that the Moscow metro system is to be dramatically extended. Obviously, this is good news for all city dwellers. But in Russia so many seemingly marvellous announcements are made which turn out, on closer inspection, to be more Potemkin PR than real progress, that I read this article carefully. The opening paragraph sounded promising:
“The Moscow metro system that carries more than 9 million passengers per day will undergo a massive expansion by 2020, growing in size by 1 1/2 times and creating a second ring line around the city, officials said Wednesday... Deputy Mayor Marat Khusnullin [said], ‘By 2020 we plan to build 150 kilometers of new subway lines and 70 new stations.’”
     A 150% increase in the size of the Moscow metro would really be something. I read on enthusiastically, especially about the “state-of-the-art cars” which are now said to be coming out of Metrovagonmash. I was only momentarily distracted by wondering if, in Russia with its love of portmanteau words, potatoes are produced at “Potatomash”, and really huge things built by “Monstermash”. Perhaps, in Uzbekistan, the marijuana crop is processed at “Hashmash”.
     The whole plan sounded wonderful until I read the last paragraph, which rather let the air out of the big red PR balloon:
”Every day, 12 subway lines and 185 stations serve the capital with trains traversing more than 300 kilometres of track at speeds averaging more than 40 kilometres per hour. The new plans would increase those numbers to 451 kilometres of track running through 252 stations.”
     So the metro is not going to expand by 150%, but by 50% (adding 150 kms of track to the existing 300 to make 451; and increasing the number of stations from 185 to 252—actually a 36% increase). This is substantial and entirely to be welcomed. But it is quite different from “growing in size by 1 ½ times”, as the opening paragraph promised. It is true, that if you multiply 300 by 1.5 you get 450. But the ordinary newspaper reader tends not to think in precise mathematical terms. If the paper had said the metro was to “grow by half”, most people would have expected a 50% increase. Doubling that would represent a doubling in size and, logically, trebling it would mean a 150% increase.
     Statistically speaking, this is what in English is known as a “mish-mash”.

Language postscript: on page 15 of the paper, I see a caption to a touchy-feely picture of balloons at VDHKh which says, “Temperatures are heating up and Muscovites are cooling down...”
     Of course, temperatures are not heating up. They are rising. The weather may be heating up. But 25C (which is the temperature in Khimki today) is 25C and can never be 26C or 27C. 25C cannot heat up. Only the weather can do that.


  1. Hi! I live on Planernaya station! This photo is fake!

  2. Look this Planernaya!

    1. No, it's not a fake! You are looking at a sequence of pictures (2nd message) of the shopping centre near the metro station. I am talking about the engine sheds, which are the true terminus of the line, and are beyond the station. Walk up the road towards the Canal (about 500 metres, towards Ulitsa Svoboda) and turn in to the left when you come to the end of the long buildings and you will see what I saw when I took the photograph (or something similar as it was taken a year or two ago).

  3. I don't mean to be in any way disrespectful but I feel obligated to serve my duty as Captain Obvious. Some non-russian readers of this really interesting blog may fail to know that Metrovagonmash originates from metro (which is obvious) + vagon (which one can guess is a car of a metro train)+machine (which sounds and sometimes means the same in Russian).
    And this used to be really a widespread construction in the former USSR - whereas potatoes can only be processed into mashed potatoes, many huge and monstrous things were (and I believe still are) made in even huger (is it really a word, or would "more huge" be more appropriate?) facilities of some Uraltyazhmash (Ural heavy machines) or chose-a-city-name-of-your-own-transmash (transportation machines).