Monday’s “Independent” carried this article under the headline:
“Can Donald Trump win the election? Here’s the mathematical reason why it’s impossible for him to become President”
Spot the mistake?
Yes, but apart from that.
It was written by one Bryan Cranston, an online lecturer in politics and PhD candidate at Swinburne University, Australia, because a major British newspaper couldn’t find anyone on the European continent capable of reading a graph such as this one and commenting on it? True, but that’s not what I was getting at.
Give up? OK, try this one: “Here’s the theological reason why it’s impossible for him to become President”
“Here’s the numismatical reason why it’s impossible for him to become President”
Get it now? You can see what’s wrong, because, even though you know nothing about theology or coin collecting, you know what the words mean, just as you know what “mathematical” and “reason” mean.
Lots of journalists and editors can’t do maths, or even math, but one expects them to understand the meaning of words. And if they don’t, and have to hire a PhD student to understand it for them, one hopes they could find one who understands what you can and can’t do with maths (or math.)
Maths can tell you that 49% is bigger than 48% but it can’t tell you who will get 49% and who will get 48%.
Just as maths can tell you that 0.17°C per decade = 1.7°C per century, but it can’t tell you how many feet of water Manhattan will be under, or how many Bangladeshis will be arriving in 2100, or whether there’ll be electricity cuts this winter. Only careful thought by rational human beings can do that.
Anyone out there, in the media or elsewhere, still capable of rational thought?