Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Good math+wrong premise=flawed conclusion
This morning I received a forwarded email message from a friend of mine. This marks the 4th or 5th time I’ve received this message from different people. Without repeating the entire thing, the gist of the message was that the Cash for Clunkers program was a profound failure because it ended up costing the government much more than it saved. This forward is yet another misguided attempt to discredit Obama/government policies. However, that’s not the point. The interesting thing about the message is that while the math is impeccable, the premise upon which it is based is completely wrong. For the record, the Cash for Clunkers program was an environmental effort-not necessarily economic. This situation brings home a point I used to try to make to my math students but is clearly lost on many adults. I used to tell them I don’t care how good a mathematician you are. If you don’t identify or understand a problem or issue correctly you’re going to arrive at the completely wrong conclusion regardless of how good a ‘mathematician’ you are. It all reminds me of the old saw “liars, damn liars, and statistics!” The world of mathematics is the perfect universe-only if used correctly. Otherwise, as we’ve seen, it becomes a weapon.