Friday, November 5, 2010

The Power of Numbers

Why is the civilized world so mathematically impaired? And why do people who would never dream of admitting illiteracy feel no embarrassment as they claim, "Ha ha, I'm horrible at math," or "I'm not a math person"? I'm no Einstein, but some basic arithmetic skills in basic situations, please! I was recently in a meeting where my very articulate, very professional boss's boss's boss was discussing data from our school. At one point, she laughed and said, "Ha, ha, I think there's some math thing going on here!"

Wouldn't it be great if people aspired to mathematical literacy with the same drive that they do to having a great vocabulary or having read the classics? I hear people say things like, "Well, stats can prove anything." That's true, if you're using faulty data or deriving inaccurate conclusions from them. But if you are presented with the data used to achieve those stats, you can see where the holes are. You can recognize improper methodology or where correlation was assumed to be causation. You can understand how a sample size too small might skew the data (this is one which happens ALL THE TIME in public schools, but unfortunately many of the people using these skewed data--and telling us we should use them--don't understand this).

Knowledge is power, right? Want to know who's trying to pull a fast one? Go back to math class.

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