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by Abigail Van Buren

Head-Spinning Numbers Cause Mind to Go Slack

DEAR ABBY: You printed a letter from Judie Songer of Rogersville, Mo., about junk mail. Her letter prompts me to write.

Ms. Songer stated that "Americans receive almost 2 million tons of junk mail daily!" This information apparently was obtained through Ms. Songer's research for a class speech. Abby, 2 million tons equal 4 billion pounds. If we assume the population of the United States to be 250 million, that equates to 16 pounds of junk mail for each man, woman and child in the country. I doubt that even you receive that much mail.

Ms. Songer's point is well-taken. The volume of junk mail is annoying and represents unreasonable waste. This letter is not a criticism of Ms. Songer, but when one refers to information sources, too frequently our discernment is in the "off" position.

Does this really matter? Yes, I think so. As Americans, we are called upon daily to make decisions that affect every aspect of our lives. For example: Please note that this is a presidential election year. I submit that we will hear numerous preposterous claims from individuals running for office. If we accept all these candidates' claims as stated, without some level of discernment, we will deserve what we get.

Now that I have that off my chest, I must admit that I, too, use some of the methods Ms. Songer suggested to discourage junk mail. -- ROGER WHITE, VANCOUVER, WASH.

DEAR ROGER: The person whose "discernment" was switched off was me, for failing to question the figures. I heard from many readers who pointed out the numbers were incorrect. When I contacted Ms. Songer, she replied as follows:

DEAR ABBY: After you printed my letter about how to get rid of junk mail, I was amazed at the positive letters and phone calls I received; and from that feedback, I learned that this subject is important to others as well. However, one caller questioned the accuracy of my numbers, so to satisfy my curiosity, I rechecked my sources. I did misquote them. Two million tons of junk mail are sent per YEAR, not per day. My apologies to your readers. -- JUDIE SONGER, ROGERSVILLE, MO.

DEAR JUDIE: I appreciate the correction.