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The Force of Statistics

They were sitting on a seat of the car, immediately in
front of me. I was consequently able to hear all that
they were saying. They were evidently strangers who had
dropped into a conversation. They both had the air of
men who considered themselves profoundly interesting as
minds. It was plain that each laboured under the impression
that he was a ripe thinker.

One had just been reading a book which lay in his lap.

"I've been reading some very interesting statistics," he
was saying to the other thinker.

"Ah, statistics" said the other; "wonderful things, sir,
statistics; very fond of them myself."

"I find, for instance," the first man went on, "that a
drop of water is filled with little...with little...I
forget just what you call them...little--er--things,
every cubic inch containing--er--containing...let me
see..."

"Say a million," said the other thinker, encouragingly.

"Yes, a million, or possibly a billion...but at any
rate, ever so many of them."

"Is it possible?" said the other. "But really, you know
there are wonderful things in the world. Now, coal...take
coal..."

"Very, good," said his friend, "let us take coal," settling
back in his seat with the air of an intellect about to
feed itself.

"Do you know that every ton of coal burnt in an engine
will drag a train of cars as long as...I forget the
exact length, but say a train of cars of such and such
a length, and weighing, say so much...from...from...hum!
for the moment the exact distance escapes me...drag it
from..."

"From here to the moon," suggested the other.

"Ah, very likely; yes, from here to the moon. Wonderful,
isn't it?"

"But the most stupendous calculation of all, sir, is in
regard to the distance from the earth to the sun.
Positively, sir, a cannon-ball--er--fired at the sun..."

"Fired at the sun," nodded the other, approvingly, as if
he had often seen it done.

"And travelling at the rate of...of..."

"Of three cents a mile," hinted the listener.

"No, no, you misunderstand me,--but travelling at a fearful
rate, simply fearful, sir, would take a hundred million--no,
a hundred billion--in short would take a scandalously long
time in getting there--"

At this point I could stand no more. I interrupted--"Provided
it were fired from Philadelphia," I said, and passed into the
smoking-car.

Stephen Leacock