You’re reading Significant Digits, a daily digest of the numbers tucked inside the news. This column will be on holiday until Jan. 2 — see you in the new year.
Claas Relotius, a superstar journalist for the German magazine Der Spiegel, turned out to be less a journalist and more a fabulist, reminiscent of The New Republic’s Stephen Glass. Relotius invented quotes, characters, places and scenes and passed them off as nonfiction. He was found out thanks to the suspicions and reporting of another Der Spiegel reporter, Juan Moreno, who was working with him on a story about the U.S.-Mexico border. Relotius resigned this week; he’d written 55 articles for Der Spiegel. [Spiegel Online]
$12.8 billion cash injection
Altria, the maker of Marlboro cigarettes, is investing $12.8 billion in Juul, giving the real-cigarette company a 35 percent stake in the e-cigarette company. Juul, a company that makes nicotine delivery devices adored by teens, is now worth more than Airbnb and SpaceX. [Bloomberg]
3,200 Islamic State prisoners
Kurdish fighters in Syria are discussing releasing some 3,200 Islamic State prisoners, according to a monitoring group and a Western official. The reports come a day after President Trump ordered the withdrawal of American troops from Syria. “If they are released, it’s a real disaster and major threat to Europe,” an unnamed official told the Times. [The New York Times]
The travel plans of some 10,000 people at the U.K.’s Gatwick Airport, the country’s second largest, were ruined thanks to drones. For hours, no flights took off or landed despite sunny skies as drones were repeatedly seen hovering over the airfield in what appeared “to be a deliberate attempt to disrupt flights,” according to the airport. [NPR]
5.2 percent of available free agents
Baseball’s offseason, known as the hot stove league, has gone cold in recent years. As of last week, 50 days after the end of the World Series, only 5.2 percent of available free agents had signed big league contracts for guaranteed money. That was lower even than at the same time last year — 5.4 percent — which was in turn lower than each of the four years before that. Teams appear less willing to spend money on players over 30, and teams appear to have collectively realized that they can wait out the free agents and get the better of the market. [FiveThirtyEight]
130,000 people in a year
The population of Puerto Rico fell by 130,000 between July 2017 and July 2018, according to the Census Bureau. Puerto Rico had already been in the midst of a 12-year recession and a decade-long population decline, which was exacerbated by Hurricane Maria in September 2017. Its population sits at about 3.2 million. [CBS News]
Love digits? Find even more in FiveThirtyEight’s new book of math and logic puzzles, “The Riddler.” It’s in stores now! I hope you dig it.
If you see a significant digit in the wild, please send it to @ollie.