28 October 2005

Sweet Statistic

It is probably true that astronomers are different from other people in a variety of ways. We are generally more comfortable with large numbers and physical phenomena of vast scale. My wife, on the other hand, can’t think about the expansion of the universe without getting nauseous. (I recall a character in a Peter de Vries novel who, upon encountering the expansion of the universe in class, took to his bed for a week with the vapors.) We are also, I think, adapted to seeing the beauty of the cosmos in the statistical analysis of heaps of numbers.

But seldom have I seen a statistic as sweet as the one in today’s Washington Post. (I haven’t bothered to link to it, because it will become inaccessible within a week anyway.)

The Office of Personnel Management has loaded the database of federal employment facts into a search system that enables the average citizen to make a variety of analyses of what her tax dollars are getting in terms of human resources. An enterprising reporter for the Post has culled the latest (FY05) information on average base salaries for various federal jobs. (The average for all, by the way, is $63,715.)

The average salary for government astronomers is $115,634.
The average salary for government lawyers is … $115,111.

The average government astronomer is better paid than the average government lawyer. True, it’s not much of a difference. And the lawyers outnumber the astronomers by about 50 to 1.

But still, it’s sweet.


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