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Math Science

Is Poor Numeracy Ruining Lives? 489

Hugh Pickens writes "The BBC reports on how millions of people struggle to understand a payslip or a train timetable, or pay a household bill. Government figures show that almost half the working population of England have only primary school math skills, and research suggests that weak math skills are linked with an array of poor life outcomes such as prison, unemployment, exclusion from school, poverty and long-term illness. 'We are paying for this in our science, technology and engineering industries but also in people's own ability to earn funds and manage their lives,' says Chris Humphries. He is the chairman of National Numeracy, an organization seeking to emulate the success of the National Literacy Trust, which has helped improve reading and writing standards since it was set up nearly 20 years ago. The Department for Education wants the vast majority of young people to study math up to 18 within a decade to meet the growing demand for employees with high level and intermediate math skills. 'It is simply inexcusable for anyone to say "I can't do maths,"' adds Humphries. "
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Is Poor Numeracy Ruining Lives?

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  • Re:Can't do Maths? (Score:4, Informative)

    by The Raven ( 30575 ) on Friday March 02, 2012 @03:40PM (#39223649) Homepage

    Waste of mod points, but: that is completely proper British English, you insensitive clod. This is an article written in the UK.

  • Re:Must be said (Score:5, Informative)

    by Mindcontrolled ( 1388007 ) on Friday March 02, 2012 @03:48PM (#39223791)

    Innumeracy is what keeps the mythology of supply-side economics and the Laffer Curve alive.

    The usual Laffer curve argument doesn't even rely on innumeracy, it relies on the inability of those to be indoctrinated to do basic logic. Has anyone actually *seen* this fabled curve? All you get is the trivial cases of no revenue at 0 and 100% tax rate, and, ergo *jedi hand wave*, we must lower taxes. If you do actually plot revenue against rate for different countries, you get a complete mess which you cannot fit against any meaningful function. That is not the purpose anyway, the whole Laffer curve argument relies on that Jedi hand wave.

  • Re:Must be said (Score:5, Informative)

    by khallow ( 566160 ) on Friday March 02, 2012 @04:39PM (#39224659)

    All you get is the trivial cases of no revenue at 0 and 100% tax rate, and, ergo *jedi hand wave*, we must lower taxes

    It is a consequence of three things, the assumption that revenue as a function of tax rate is continuous (loosely, that small changes in tax rate mean small changes in revenue), the above assumption that there is zero revenue at 0 and 100% tax rate, and Rolle's Theorem []. The combination of those three things yields the Laffer curve. The theorem is unassailable. That means one of the two assumptions have to be wrong before the Laffer curve model is wrong.

    You aren't really complaining about the Laffer curve, but rather about a rhetorical and unwarranted jump from existence of the curve to deciding that tax rates must be lowered. That only would be true, if a) the current tax rate is above the optimal rate, and b) maximizing or increasing tax revenue is a primary goal, neither which was established in your example.

    It doesn't help that figuring out what the Laffer curve looks like is extraordinarily hard. For example, there's no reason to expect that the Laffer curve for the US and Sweden would be the same. The primary reason just being the relevant effectiveness of public spending in each country. The US is remarkably less effective at spending public funds (at all levels of government) than Sweden is.

    So one would expect that a lower tax rate would be more effective in the US for increasing overall revenue (that is, private sources are more effective at increasing value and future revenue relative to public means in the US than the same in Sweden). And actual tax rates (including state and local levels) in the US are usually lower than those in Sweden.

  • by Trapick ( 1163389 ) on Friday March 02, 2012 @05:05PM (#39225051)
    This is terrible thinking. You're right, the cashier doesn't have to know anything about arithmetic to give out change - unless they accidentally hit the wrong button the register. Which they do. Because fingers are fat and slow, and registers are dumb machines. So when the cashier hits $10.00 instead of $20.00 for the bill I gave him, I want him to know enough math to give me an extra $10 in change - since that's what he owes me. If you think this is a trivial example, manage some cashiers sometime. A quarter will correctly adjust (correctly) instantly, a quarter will simply not notice and give a person too little (or too much) change, and half will realize they hit the wrong button, stop, panic, and call someone for help to sort it out.
  • Re:Even Here (Score:5, Informative)

    by WastedMeat ( 1103369 ) on Friday March 02, 2012 @05:19PM (#39225263)
    A quantity that grows at a constant rate grows linearly. A quantity that grows at a rate proportional to its value (which is necessarily not constant, unless it is zero) grows exponentially. What you describe is something like x-dot = c, which is linear growth. Something like x-dot= c x is exponential. (if you are familiar with the symbols from calculus). I wouldn't go as a far as calling you a "stupid fuck", but what you are saying about constant rates is incorrect.
  • by w_dragon ( 1802458 ) on Friday March 02, 2012 @10:30PM (#39228543)
    I worked at Wendy's through high school, so I have some experience with cash registers and handling those small amounts of cash. I also have a degree in math - simple arithmetic has never been an issue for me. That quarter of people who adjust quickly were either paying extra attention to you for some reason, or were new at their jobs. Handling a cash register is a simple, repetitive task so your brain quickly makes a habit out of the normal transaction and you do it unconsciously. When someone tells you you've made a mistake your brain turns off autopilot and dumps you into a situation you haven't really been aware of. They shouldn't need to call for help, but it does give you a moment of panic, like walking in the front door of your house and not remembering the trip home because you weren't really paying attention. That moment makes it look like you don't know what you're doing, but that isn't always the case.

"Only a brain-damaged operating system would support task switching and not make the simple next step of supporting multitasking." -- George McFry