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delirium happy

Just keep on trying till you run out of cake

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A few people have linked to this story, in which a lottery scratch-card has been withdrawn due to confusion as some people were unable to tell that -8 is lower than -6. I can't quite decide what to make of this story.

On the one hand, it's definitely a shocking display of innumeracy. I sometimes find it difficult to tell the difference between genuine innumeracy and just people who aren't as mathematically inclined as I am, but in this case, I think that this is a definite case of ignorance above and beyond.

As a card carrying mathematics advocacy nut, you'd expect me to be shocked at this, and indeed I am. I'm somewhat disturbed by the feeling of schadenfreude I'm picking up from a lot of people commenting on the story, though. The main reaction I'm having to it is despair over the state of our education system. If the woman reported in the story doesn't understand negative numbers then that doesn't mean she's stupid (though she may be); it means that she's poorly educated.

I'm not sure where I'm going with this, really. I'm just feeling very conflicted about the story.

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My comment on it was that I found it possible proof that the human brain really doesn't like processing negatives..
But then mathematics and I never got on anyway :)

It's hardly surprising. Negative numbers are not a concept many people come across in everyday life. Many people in society struggle with things like basic arithmetic, let alone the concept of negative numbers.

You have to remember that half the population have an IQ of less than 100. As with any bell curve distribution, many are less intelligent than that.

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Yeah, but if you think of temperatures below 0 as a measure of 'coldness' instead of 'heat', then larger numbers mean *more* coldness, not smaller amounts of heat.


It's probably fair to say that if someone has a poor grasp of basic arithmetic, then bringing thermodynamics into the equation isn't going to clarify things.

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You have to remember that half the population have an IQ of less than 100. As with any bell curve distribution, many are less intelligent than that.

Half the population are older than average, too. I do not understand why so many people who think they're in the above-average half think that it's revealing or clever that half of any group will be below average for any quantifiable measure.

And almost everyone has more than the average number of fingers...

(Well, provided that by "average" you mean "mean". Clearly, very few people have more than the median or modal number of fingers.)

OK I take your point on the statistics. My point wasn't to appear clever or superior to the majority of the populace. The point I was trying to make is that I find it amazing that people who are of above average intelligence and/or education are amazed that a lot of people cannot understand what they consider to be a very simple concept.

See, for me it wasn't a case of she was stupid because she didn't understand the maths behind it. The reason I said she was stupid (and I did actually come out and said that somewhere or another) was this bit: "I phoned Camelot and they fobbed me off with some story that -6 is higher - not lower - than -8 but I'm not having it."

What startles me is that so many people aren't familiar with temperatures below freezing.

Over here where the weather report still uses archaic units, we don't hear -6 very often. (A good thing too--that's -20 C.)

Actually, we don't hear -6 very often over here either. Anything more than about 2 or 3 degrees below zero is pretty damn rare.

I keep forgetting how mild English temperatures are.

I have to wonder how well phrased the instructions on the card are too, and unfortunately the article offers no insight into that.

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