You need alegebra and statistics to understand the world

Andrew Sullivan writes a post titled Math is Useless, then follows up with reader reactions. I’m definitely on the side of this guy:

I suppose for a moment that mathematics is only useful “if you engineer planes” or something. When is the decision of whether a person will engineer planes to be made? Should I tell my kids who are in middle school, “Decide now whether you would like to engineer planes, this stuff is useless otherwise.” Should this be decided in high school? Before college? By whom?

It should be noted that without a certain level of mathematical proficiency, about half of the available college majors are essentially eliminated for that student. Many Americans seem to be okay with that choice; students from many other countries are not. Even if one does not wish to spend their lives “engineering planes” an educated populace requires a certain level of numeracy. People rightfully worry about illiteracy; what about innumeracy? Should people be able to solve a simple equation? Understand the notion of compound interest? Percentages? Understand the exploding amount of “data” and “studies” being fed to them daily, especially on unscrupulous “news” sources?

I’d go further than this, though. You need algebra and statistics to understand the world. Without algebra, you won’t be able to understand physics. You won’t be able to understand Newton’s law of gravity. You won’t understand what the hell F = G * m_1 * m_2 / r ^ 2 means. You’ll think Newton is famous because he was the first person to notice that apples fall. And physics may or may not be all  there is to the world, but it does seem to underlie all the parts of the world we even halfway understand. (The sad thing is, if you don’t understand algebra, you have little chance of even understanding the previous sentence.)

The value of statistics should be even more obvious. Medicine, nutrition science, psychology, and sociology all run on statistics. And who doesn’t care about their own health, or about understanding themselves and others? It’s a shame statistics isn’t a required part of high school curricula. (Maybe we could scrap some of the geometry to make room for it? Math-haters do have a point about much of geometry.)

I have this sudden urge to write a book titled The Mathematical Principles Of Knowing What the Fuck Is Going On. Hmm… would anyone be able to translate that into Latin for me?

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