Thursday, September 12, 2013

200% of nothing

An interesting book that I picked up at a garage sale years ago gives an eye-opening tour through the twists and turns of math abuse and innumeracy. The book "200% of nothing" by A. K. Dewney goes into how percentage pumping and irrational ratios can be used to make and reinforce a point that has little validity. Sadly this practice has become far too common in modern society. Aided by super fast modern methods of communication facts are seldom checked, "if you saw it on the internet" it has to be true.

 This delightfully witty excursion into how figures are manipulated sheds light on the fact that truth can quickly be buried by those who choose to mislead us. A favorite quote of mine that has been attributed to no less than five people goes as follows "There are three kinds of lies; lies, damned lies, and statistics." These abuses are committed and spread by institutions and organizations devoted to skimming and scamming the public, changing opinion, or promoting their goods and agendas. Often they ice the cake by topping off their presentation with beautiful charts and graphs skewed in scale adding to the illusion of truth.

To my delight, attention is also focused on how many people fail to internalize large numbers or when faced with them become numb to their size and are unable to relate to them. This has become the bain of our relationship with Washington and our government. Politicians pass into law and spend massive and ungodly sums of money with little idea of what they are doing. In today's world, innumeracy is an even greater danger then illiteracy and is perhaps more common. Needless to say the results of not understanding and being able to grasp the reality of the cost and how enormous these programs are can be devastating.

Far more attention must be paid to this very important subject in school. For us to intelligently shape our future we must have a sound and basic understanding of numbers and how to relate to them. When math is joined with other much-used disciplines then used in forming projections and predictions building on a false premise undermines the whole endeavor. An inability to understand the rules of percentages, ratios, statistics and basic math logic is highlighted by the rather harmless ad for a light bulb that claims you can save up to 200% of energy cost, the fact is it is impossible to save over 100% of anything.

Footnote;  Your comments are welcome and encouraged. If you have time check out the archives for another post that may be of interest to you. The post below looks at our deficit spending and is an eye-opener.

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