CNN confuses units. “KHz/sec” is a measurement of rate of change of frequency, not a measurement of frequency. As my daughter complained, that’s like people who talk about “knots per hour.” If a child can figure that out, couldn’t a major news network?

Science and math teachers around the world keep telling their students that units matter, and it keeps not registering…


Kevin Otte April 05, 2014 10:37

We also have people going around blathering about “ATM machines” and “PIN numbers”. Humans are turning into parrots. Brains atrophy when not used. Tell your daughter to keep right on pointing these things out. She’ll probably get told by others to not worry about it or “loosen up” or any number of other inanity. Ignore it. Or take it as a sign she’s doing it right. :)

Michael K Johnson April 05, 2014 10:56

There is a difference between redundant and incorrect. Humans have been using repetition for emphasis for a long time (e.g. double negatives have been emphatic negatives in most languages throughout history) and so the redundancy in initialisms (themselves linguistically extremely recent) is understandable. Language is usually redundant, and research I’ve seen indicates that this is a forward error correcting feature, not a bug. It’s misuse of precise technical terms, particularly units, that I am complaining about. I think that if news organizations want to be taken seriously, they should take pains to report accurately, and if they don’t care about accuracy they should brand themselves as entertainment organizations.

“HZ/s” is an unfortunately common mistake (like “knots per hour”) clearly due to our propensity for redundancy in language, and therefore should be on a list of basic mistakes to avoid; mistakes that demonstrate lack of understanding. The banner software could easily flag “hz/s” and even propose an automatic correction and avoid the mistake in the first place.

On the other hand, probably we should be glad that we have these markers of imprecision in language betraying lack of expertise, and just teach children to look for them as warning signs of untrustworthy information sources. :-)

John Pitney April 05, 2014 13:56

Xinhua might have made the units mistake first:  CNN is probably just parroting them.  

Michael K Johnson April 05, 2014 14:50

+John Pitney seems likely, and given how snarky CNN was being about how you can’t trust xinhua, there was a certain amount of unintentional irony. :-)

Curtis Olson April 06, 2014 15:43

My understanding is that it’s a 37.5khz tone emitted as a 1 per second pulse.  So saying 37.5khz / sec is a nice try, pretty close actually … maybe it was said correctly in the original chinese, but didn’t get translated precisely.  I’m more critical of the stories that reported this as a 37.5hz signal.  Just your typical off-by-3-orders-of-magnitude error … probably was an embedded avionics engineer in a previous life.

Michael K Johnson April 06, 2014 17:12

+Curtis Olson CNN commentators sounded like they were alternating between KHz and MHz but I was in a noisy environment so wasn’t sure. I was thinking the same thing; what’s three orders of magnitude between friends?

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