Tuesday, 25 November 2008


For those of us involved with O.R., numeracy is practically second nature. Most O.R. people have above average number skills, however you measure them. So it is sometimes salutary, and even shocking to realise that others are numerically illiterate, even though they may be otherwise well-educated.

Two stories from my experience this week illustrate this:
(1) (and this is horrifying) A radio interview with a debt-counselling service in my home city of Exeter. The speaker described how a door-to-door salesman offered a loan "with 100% interest", which the borrower thought was a very good deal.
(2) My national newspaper headlined a column chart showing the "U.K. Government borrowing" for this year and the previous two. Each column was below the axis, and the amount was clearly marked as being negative, becoming increasingly negative as time progressed. Obviously nobody had realised that borrowing a negative amount meant the opposite of what was intended.

Those of us involved in education can take these as reminders that when we have numerical results to communicate, we need to explain them as clearly as possible.

To end on a lighter note, on the same theme. Another newspaper story concerned with the current credit crunch had obviously been hastily sent through a spell-checker. There were two references to £100bun loans.

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