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.

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