Friday, April 26, 2013

How Do You Use and Consume Math?

People often assume that because I am a statistician I am a whiz at high math.  The graph above from a survey by Northeastern University seems to explain why.  The vast majority of Americans do not use any math above fractions (an estimated 78% or 1-22% which is the opposite of the any more advanced category on the graph above).  The graph below shows what type of job uses what type of math with upper blue collar like upper level trades and mechanics using each type except statistics which is upper white collar.

Although an estimated 78% of Americans do not use advanced math on a daily basis, 100% depend on them, often without question, to make decisions everyday.  Below is an example on The Colbert Report of how this blind faith can go seriously wrong.

Here is an interview with Stephen Colbert by the UMASS grad student who exposed their error in an Excel spreadsheet.  One can learn a lot by simply doing a little digging.  Some say it is not necessary to teach advanced math to our school students if they are not going to use it in their work but the critical thinking skills that are gained can come in handy if we choose to use them in other areas.

Mathematics above calculus is a different world altogether as can be seen in the BBC documentary from 1984 A Mathematical Mystery Tour which describes how the philosopher Bertrand Russell needed 362 pages to prove that 1+1=2.  I added an online poll to survey users of this blog on their background and comfort level in math.  The polling will be open until May 26.

**Related Posts**

Why Elites Fail | The Nation


Online Poll Results on the Blog Title Inconclusive Relative to Visitor Statistics


The Science of Why We Don't Believe Science | Mother Jones



  1. Jay Leno once had a joke where he asked his audience, "Will somebody tell me what an adult use of algebra is?" And the answer was: "Lotus 1-2-3" I had no use for algebra until I had to learn Lotus, before the advent of Windows and Excel. We are all dependent on math. The computers and software we are using to communicate these messages and Websitss are all dependent on it, But I am still math phobic and have math anxiety. I use statistics on occasion and do "what if" scenarios on Excel. But I avoid math like the plaque otherwses other than do my taxes, make home repairs, cooking and baking.
    And as far as calculus goes and algebra, the textbooks haven't changed since I was in college ad high school. In my wife's textbooks, mine and my children, the typical paragraph begins "It is obvious to the reader" And they are still using the old example of two trains approaching each other in the night going toward each other in algegra," Using Lotus 1-2-3 is a better way of teaching algebra for me than they are doing. Using the physics lab experiments made more senst to me than just drawing curves on graph paper and calculating the area under a curve as delta x approached zero, who cares if delta x reaches zero.

    Best regards,

    Best regards,

    1. Thanks for your comment. I agree entirely Paul. When people see the practical benefit to math, they learn it and use it. The problem is how do you get them to see the practical benefit? Pure mathematicians have the difficulty explaining that to the general public as can be seen in the YouTube video above.