People With No Math or Science

This clip from one of the alphabet networks is going viral. An MSNBC talking head, a bunch of MSNBC production staff, and a member of the NYT editorial board all think that Bloomie could give every man, woman, child, and intersex individual in the US a million dollars out of his personal wealth. This was based on an idea floated by some rando on Twitter.

In all likelihood, most of these people could probably do the arithmetic correctly if presented with the problem with pencil and paper. The issue in not that they fail at arithmetic as a set of algorithms to obtain a numerical answer. The trouble is they don’t understand arithmetic on an intuitive level well enough to realize that one million  times 325 million is a much bigger number than the number of dollars Bloomie could possibly have. It’s not necessary to do the division to know the tweeter’s idea was wrong.

It’s not hard to imagine most viewers knowingly nodding their heads in agreement with these two individuals. Those same people (the ones on TV and those at home) have no idea how to assess less outrageous, but still wildly erroneous, claims by journalists and activists. This extends beyond math to science in general. This is alien territory for a great swath of humanity in a world that increasingly is reliant upon these cognitive skills.

This failure of mathematical and scientific intuition is on full display with COVID19. Absurd claims abound concerning the efficacy of masks, about the mortality rate, and a host of other topics. Many have no idea of the order of magnitude of the size of a virion or a typical aerosol yet feel at liberty to opine on how well masks work. It’s like a bunch of illiterates styling themselves as critics of the works of Shakespeare: “Well, in my defense, I once heard someone recite one of his sonnets.”

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Author: drlorentz

photon whisperer & quantum mechanic

30 thoughts on “People With No Math or Science”

  1. A friend of mine used to say that the one skill he wished the schools would teach students is dividing by 300 million in their heads (that was around the U.S. population at the time).  This puts these numbers into perspective from a personal wallet standpoint.

    That was before the whole racket of citing ten year totals or totals for other time periods became common.  I remember this as coming into vogue when Bill Clinton started calling people who earned US$250,000 a year “millionaires” because that was their income in one presidential term (not to mention confusing income with wealth).

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  2. Here’s the thing about this: she likely went to a private school and Williams is likely sending his to a private school. Makes one wonder if there really is any difference between public and private education.

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  3. Robert A. McReynolds:
    Here’s the thing about this: she likely went to a private school and Williams is likely sending his to a private school. Makes one wonder if there really is any difference between public and private education.

    Well, there’s private education and then there’s private education.   Different private schools have differing emphases.

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  4. The on air talent often just read what’s in front of them. I blame the producers and people who actually run the show. They are the pilots and these people are the flight attendants.

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  5. 10 Cents:
    The on air talent often just read what’s in front of them. I blame the producers and people who actually run the show. They are the pilots and these people are the flight attendants.

    The member of the NYT editorial board is not just supposed to be some idiot talking head that repeats any nonsense put in front of her. And the story was presented as if she had found the tweet and decided to highlight it. Maybe that was just a lie; if so, add lying to their list of sins.

    The larger point is that not one person in the long chain of this story noticed this was wrong: the producers, the people who put together the graphics, and the presenters.

    Imagine a similar thing happening with a story that didn’t directly involve math or science.

    TV reporter: “The statue of Abraham Lincoln has come to life and has walked down the Mall toward the Capitol Building.”

    Dime’s reaction: “These poor news readers just read what’s put in front of them.”

    You’re too easy on these guys. They have to be held responsible for what comes out of their stupid little mouths. Anyway, they weren’t just reading a script.

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  6. drlorentz:

    10 Cents:
    The on air talent often just read what’s in front of them. I blame the producers and people who actually run the show. They are the pilots and these people are the flight attendants.

    The member of the NYT editorial board is not just supposed to be some idiot talking head that repeats any nonsense put in front of her. And the story was presented as if she had found the tweet and decided to highlight it. Maybe that was just a lie; if so, add lying to their list of sins.

    The larger point is that not one person in the long chain of this story noticed this was wrong: the producers, the people who put together the graphics, and the presenters.

    Imagine a similar thing happening with a story that didn’t directly involve math or science.

    TV reporter: “The statue of Abraham Lincoln has come to life and has walked down the Mall toward the Capitol Building.”

    Dime’s reaction: “These poor news readers just read what’s put in front of them.”

    You’re too easy on these guys. They have to be held responsible for what comes out of their stupid little mouths. Anyway, they weren’t just reading a script.

    In the Field of Dreams voice, “Put it on the teleprompter and they will read.”

    If you notice the veteran newscasters are easier on these people because they have a long list of stupid things that came out of their mouths.

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  7. These people decide what stories are relevant and which are not, which sources are highly-placed and which ones are disgruntled outliers, what you will hear and what you won’t

    And they are dumber than a bag of hammers.

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  8. civil westman:
    But, but, but… they’re just telling their truth”!! Isn’t that supposed to be perfectly OK? They’re not “hate facts” after all.

    They’re just telling “there truth”, Civil. 🙂

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  9. We have replaced skill with appearance. Like all silly things, it will die when something more useful comes along, like YouTube or Twitter.

    It seems the “news” is just comedy content feeder for both of those channels.

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  10. TKC 1101:
    We have replaced skill with appearance. Like all silly things, it will die when something more useful comes along, like YouTube or Twitter.

    Umm… did you happen to notice that this story came from Twitter?

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  11. drlorentz:
    TKC 1101: We have replaced skill with appearance. Like all silly things, it will die when something more useful comes along, like YouTube or Twitter. Umm… did you happen to notice that this story came from Twitter?

    Sorry, thought the sarcasm was obvious

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  12. TKC 1101:

    drlorentz:
    TKC 1101: We have replaced skill with appearance. Like all silly things, it will die when something more useful comes along, like YouTube or Twitter. Umm… did you happen to notice that this story came from Twitter?

    Sorry, thought the sarcasm was obvious

    These days it’s getting harder and harder to tell. We’re in a post-parody world.

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  13. drlorentz:
    This extends beyond math to science in general. This is alien territory for a great swath of humanity in a world that increasingly is reliant upon these cognitive skills.

    I don’t think the problem is ignorance so much as self-confidence among the ignorant and the wrong. People who are bad at math or science but are humble can turn to the knowledgable among them.

    Bernie is a great mix of this. He is dumb with regard to economics but he believes in false economic ideas with absolute confidence and zero intellectual curiosity. This is where stuff gets bad. If an ignorant but non-ideological populace go for socialism, they can change their minds very quickly. Not so much with ideologues.

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  14. Henry Castaigne:

    drlorentz:
    This extends beyond math to science in general. This is alien territory for a great swath of humanity in a world that increasingly is reliant upon these cognitive skills.

    I don’t think the problem is ignorance so much as self-confidence among the ignorant and the wrong. People who are bad at math or science but are humble can turn to the knowledgable among them.

    Bernie is a great mix of this. He is dumb with regard to economics but he believes in false economic ideas with absolute confidence and zero intellectual curiosity. This is where stuff gets bad.

    Total agreement so far.

    If an ignorant but non-ideological populace go for socialism, they can change their minds very quickly. Not so much with ideologues.

    The people of Venezuela voted for socialism Chavez-style.  It was working great so they doubled up on Chavezmo.   But within just a few months after that second vote, things started falling apart, but it was too late to reel it back.

    Now it is fifteen years after that second vote.  Venezolanos are getting ground down into the Communist poverty of Maduro.

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  15. Henry Castaigne:
    I don’t think the problem is ignorance so much as self-confidence among the ignorant and the wrong. People who are bad at math or science but are humble can turn to the knowledgable among them.

    Where might you find such humble individuals? All the innumerate and scientifically illiterate people seem extremely confident. The subject of the OP is only one example. The COVID-19 pandemic is another. We are confidently and repeatedly told that masks & respirators don’t work, that this is just like the seasonal flu, that it’s all a plot to (a) damage Trump or (b) make money for somebody or other, or that there’s nothing to see here so move along. One has even seen many of these notions floated in these pages. In each instance, the case was put forth confidently, dare I say, arrogantly.

    The opposite seems to be true, viz., the more ignorant, the more self-confident the individuals are. The only ones who hedge their bets, i.e., display any humility, are the ones who know the most.

    As for the remainder of the comment, MJB has you covered.

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  16. drlorentz:
    Where might you find such humble individuals?

    The illiterate peasants are China seemed very respectful of Doctors when I was there. In general, there does seem to be more respect for expects in Asia. That’s not necessarily a good thing when it comes to politicians.

    With regard to MJBubba’s dark comment on Venezuela, I feel more confident that America would elect a Juan Guiadó after things get really bad than happened in Venezuelan. We did come back after Woodrow Wilson after all.

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