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Friday, December 17, 2004

In the news...but not always right...

I'm sure most of you have heard about the new bridge just opened in France which is supposed to be the tallest in the world. I read a few articles about it and in most of these articles, they compare the height of the bridge to the height of the Eiffel Tower. All say the bridge is higher than the Eiffel Tower and I don't think there is any doubt about that. The interesting thing is the height difference quoted in each of the articles. So, I did a little analysis and below is what I found. I scanned about 25 articles and here are the 3 that stood out...

New York Times

The highest of the bridges seven concrete pillars stands at 343 meters (1,125 ft), 19 meters (62 ft) higher than the Eiffel Tower. At almost 2.5 km (1.5 miles), it is longer than the Champs Elysees and slightly curved to afford drivers a dramatic view of the surrounding countryside and the ancient town of Millau with its medieval bell tower.


Designed by British architect Norman Foster, the steel-and-concrete bridge with its streamlined diagonal suspension cables rests on seven pillars — the tallest measuring 1,122 feet, making it 53 feet taller than the Eiffel Tower.

BBC News

This one notes the height difference as a footer to a picture posted witin the article. Additionally, the bridge height itself is located in some factoid on the side of the page next to the article

The bridge is 23 metres taller than the Eiffel Tower.
Highest point: 343m (1,125ft)

According to Google, 23 meters (or metres as they like to spell) equals 75.4593176 feet.

So what might explain this disparity? Let's look first to the official Eiffel Tower website. Here, we find the following:

1889 (height with flag): 312.27m
1991 (height with antenna): 317.96m
1994 (height with antenna): 318.70m
2000 (height with antenna): 324.00m
Conversions using Google:

317.96 m = 1043.17585 ft
318.70 m = 1045.60367 ft
324.00 m = 1062.99213 ft

So now, if we take the 2000 height and compare it to the height of the bridge mentioned in each of the above articles, we get the following:


Quoted Bridge Height: 1125 ft
2000 Eiffel Tower Height:1063 ft

Actual Difference: 62 Feet (matches their article)

It should be noted that this article is the control article. The numbers stated match most of the other news articles you will find and match the statistics on the official websites for the bridge and Eiffel Tower. Everything seems kosher here.


Quoted Bridge Height:1122 ft
2000 Eiffel Tower Height: 1063 ft

Actual Difference: 59 feet
Difference quoted in article: 53 feet

BBC News:

Quoted Bridge Height: 1125 ft
2000 Eiffel Tower Height: 1063 ft

Actual Difference: 62 feet (way off. Their article shows the difference at over 75 feet!)

So what have we found? First, it seems that MSNBC has decided that the bridge is 3 feet shorter than it actually is. According to the offical Viaduc de Millau website, the bridge is 343 meters which is 1125.32808 ft.

Additionally, the people at MSNBC apparently had one too many journalism classes and one too few math classes as they can't add or subtract. In fairness though, they did not quote the height they used for the Eiffel Tower, so either they can't do math or they fucked up that height as well.

If they did use a different height for the Tower, it would have to be taller than what the Tower height actually is or ever was in order to get their difference of 53 feet. At no point in history did the Tower stand greater than 1063 feet. Perhaps this explains the 3 feet they chopped off the bridge - maybe they donated some of it back to the Tower because they felt bad. Still, even if they did that, you would still need to add 3 more feet to the Tower height to get their number of 53. Maybe they are trying to predict a new antenna.

And how about those wise guys at the BBC. Apparently, they definately have no idea how to do math or measurement conversion as they believe the bridge is over 75 feet taller than the tower. Who knows where they come up with these numbers! At least they got the height of the bridge right though - I guess that effort took it all out of them.