Posts filed under “Mathematics”
Last week, we discussed the problems with having poor reading comprehension and the impact that has on consuming news. This week, I want to look at the lack of math skills.
America seems to becoming a dangerously innumerate society. Innumeracy is incompetence with numbers rather than words. This is a worrisome issue for the future competitiveness of the U.S.
I first encountered the word in a 2001 book, “Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences,” by Temple University math professor John Allen Paulos.
This has been an issue for quite a while, but it blossomed into view again earlier this summer in a New York Times magazine article, “Why Do Americans Stink at Math?” The deficiencies outlined are striking:
A 2012 study comparing 16-to-65-year-olds in 20 countries found that Americans rank in the bottom five in numeracy. On a scale of 1 to 5, 29 percent of them scored at Level 1 or below, meaning they could do basic arithmetic but not computations requiring two or more steps. One study that examined medical prescriptions gone awry found that 17 percent of errors were caused by math mistakes on the part of doctors or pharmacists. A survey found that three-quarters of doctors inaccurately estimated the rates of death and major complications associated with common medical procedures, even in their own specialty areas.
It is more than anecdotal: Fewer and fewer people are familiar with even the most rudimentary mathematics. People are too easily confused by simple figures. My favorite example is how many people believe that a 100 billion is more than 10 trillion (because, you know, 100 is bigger than 10). Continues here
click for ginormous chart Source: FRED This morning’s column on Inflation truthers led to some emailers insisting inflation numbers are much higher post crisis than pre. Sorry, but the data says that is simply not true. Play with the attached FRED XL spread sheets all you want, the data is hard to argue…Read More
“All models are wrong; some are useful.” – George E. P. Box The quote above comes from George Box. He was a brilliant statistician and professor, who thought long and hard about the use and misuse of statistics. I was reminded of Box this weekend while watching the thrilling World Cup final between…Read More
Chances are that when you think about math—which, for most of us, happens pretty infrequently—you don’t think of it in anything like the way that Jordan Ellenberg does. Ellenberg is a rare scholar who is both a math professor (at the University of Wisconsin-Madison) and a novelist. And in his fascinating new book, How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking, he deploys analyses of poetry, politics, and even religion in a bold recasting of what math is in the first place.
For Ellenberg, the stuff you hated about math in high school isn’t the core of the thing. He’s emphatic that mathematics isn’t simply about the calculations involving, you know, numbers; rather, it’s a highly nuanced approach to solving problems that we all, unavoidably, encounter. Ellenberg’s chapters range from showing how mathematical thinking undermines many popular proofs for the existence of God (Paley’s design argument, Pascal’s wager), to explaining how math helps us understand why smoking causes lung cancer (contrary to claims by one early statistician who actually argued that the causation might be reversed—that lung cancer might cause smoking!).
On the show this week we talked to Ellenberg about his book, and math: why you’re probably thinking about it all wrong, and why it’s so powerful.
This episode also features a short interview with Tasneem Raja, author of the must-read new article “We Can Code It: Why computer literacy is key to winning the 21st century” in Mother Jones, and a discussion of new findings about autism and possibly how to stop it—by making brain cells better able to communicate with one another.
From Betsey Stevenson & Justin Wolfers, a short primer on separating lies from statistics: 1. Focus on how robust a finding is, meaning that different ways of looking at the evidence point to the same conclusion. Do the same patterns repeat in many data sets, in different countries, industries or eras? 2. Results that…Read More
This column is not about working too hard, or the dangers of high cholesterol, or lack of exercise. It is about a rash of suicides within the financial community. What this actually means is less certain than the reporting on it might imply. Yesterday, 47-year-old Edmund Reilly, a trader at the Vertical Group, jumped in…Read More
Category: Bad Math
Five years ago today, I made the luckiest market call of my career. A few details and some context first, than an explanation as to why this was so lucky. In 2005, I knew something was amiss in the global markets. The various metrics we track showed that credit had become a full on bubble,…Read More