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Posts Tagged ‘**video**’

### No Statistics Needed

Posted September 22, 2010

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While perusing the website Teaching College Math, I came upon a blog entitled Mathematics of Coercion. I was immediately intrigued, and discovered it was actually a review of a video on TED Talk called “Bruce Bueno de Mesquita Predicts Iran’s Future.” Apparently Mr. Bueno de Mesquita has created a model using mathematical analysis to make predictions about complicated issues involving negotiations, such as war and politics.

After watching the video, I was a bit disappointed that even though there are a couple of references to mathematics, nothing of substance is offered. He mentions game theory, and that the factorial is used in determining the number of interactions of *n* people influencing an issue, but he never explains how he quantifies the various characteristics of the “*influencers*,” or how math is used in his simulation computer program. He does state that his predictions are based on estimations of future behavior, not statistics of past behavior. So even though we don’t really know what he does use, he makes it clear what he doesn’t, and no statistics are needed!

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I was recently discussing with my math professor and a fellow student the relevance, or lack thereof, of current math courses to high school students. When I commented I wasn’t sure if it was the relevance of the courses, or the marketing of those courses, that was the problem, my professor directed me to a video of a talk given by another math professor, Arthur Benjamin. In it he explains why he feels that making calculus the pinnacle of the high school math curriculum is not the best, and that students (and society) would be better served if learning probability and statistics was the zenith. He does not minimize the value of calculus for certain students, but he feels it is not relevant to our everyday lives in the way that probability and statistics are.

After taking my first statistics course, I was so impressed by the relevance of the material that I began to believe, and still do, that everyone in America should know statistics. If followed, Professor Benjamin’s “formula for changing math education” would make that possible. We are so inundated in our culture with facts, figures, and persuasive techniques involving statistics (think sports, politics, lotteries, advertising), that one needs to be able to sift through the rhetoric in order to recognize the reality. If one more fully understands the data being presented, one can make more informed decisions. It would seem, then, that I have had to re-think my position on high school math in favor of changing the current course offerings and emphasis to bring more relevance to our students. And as Professor Benjamin points out, probability and statistics involve uncertainty and risk, which are clearly relevant to our everyday lives.