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Significant Digits for Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015

You’re reading Significant Digits, a daily digest of the telling numbers tucked inside the news.

5.9 percent

The flu epidemic is getting worse, with 43 states reporting “high or widespread flu activity.” This year’s flu vaccine has not been as effective as in earlier years, but authorities have stressed people should get vaccinated nonetheless. Hospitalizations from flu-like symptoms are now at 5.9 percent. [ABC 7]

10 percent of clients

Morgan Stanley has fired an employee it says stole — and tried to sell — data on about 350,000 clients of the bank’s wealth management arm (about 10 percent of all the bank’s wealth management customers). The FBI is investigating. [New York Times]

98.7 percent of growth

The homes and communities built around cities during the postwar housing boom have hit the point where they’re beginning to deteriorate, becoming undesirable housing stock. This is threatening inner ring suburbs: 98.7 percent of U.S. population growth between 2000 and 2010 took place beyond a two-mile radius of a downtown center. Roughly 70 percent of the growth took place 15 miles or more away from downtown centers. [Belt Magazine]


Sony is out with a new version of the Walkman. This iteration has 128 GB of storage, a touchscreen, high-resolution audio and costs $1,200. I am willing to sell my old Walkman for a tenth of that, but be forewarned that the “No Strings Attached” CD by NSYNC has been stuck in there since 2001. [Gizmodo]

1,364 busted rumors

Gossip Cop, a rumor site with a high bar for whispers, kept track of each busted, debunked and corrected story published in gossip outlets in 2014. The site’s tally of 1,364 false rumors includes details about Robin Williams’s final hours, an alleged relationship of the late actor Philip Seymour Hoffman and the marriage of Channing Tatum. And yet, Gossip Cop has yet to debunk slanderous rumors about a FiveThirtyEight lifestyle writer’s relationship with Bat Boy. [Gossip Cop]

3,000 feet

Two climbers are attempting to complete what is considered the most difficult ascent in the world: the smooth, sheer face of the El Capitan peak in Yosemite National Park. [New York Times]


Kyle Craven, who inspired the internet meme Bad Luck Brian, estimated that he has earned between $15,000 and $20,000 over three years from licensing deals and T-shirts. [Washington Post]

$5.2 million

Software in half of New York City taxi cabs caused riders to pay an additional $5.2 million in tips. Bloomberg Businessweek analyzed the distribution of tipping in cabs, and Ben Wellington noticed that tips of 21, 26 and 31 percent were oddly frequent. It turns out the cabs running payment software from Creative Mobile Technologies included tolls and taxes in the pre-tip amount, while the cabs running Verfone tech don’t. In fairness, getting ripped off by a cab at least once is practically a city institution. [I Quant NY]

345,169,134 links

Google was asked to remove 345,169,134 links from its search engine in 2014 by copyright holders with Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedown notices, a 75 percent increase over 2013. This is the worst thing to happen to pirates since Parliament enacted the Offences at Sea Act of 1799. [TorrentFreak]

$2 billion

The Islamic State claimed it has an annual budget of $2 billion for 2015, and will enjoy a $250 million surplus. The group pays its fighters $400 per month. [International Business Times]

A Significant Digits daily newsletter is coming soon. If you want to be one of the first to receive it, sign up here. And, as always, if you see a significant digit out in the wild, tweet it to me @WaltHickey.

Walt Hickey was FiveThirtyEight’s chief culture writer.