### Number Watch Web Forum

This forum is about wrong numbers in science, politics and the media. It respects good science and good English.

Number Watch Web Forum
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Numerate Labour

A past secretary of state for health told me he thought it disgusting that 50 per cent of hospitals in Britain are below average.

http://observer.guardian.co.uk/magazine/story/0,,1758753,00.html

Re: Numerate Labour

Welcome to Lake Woebegon, "where all students are above average" (Lake Woebegon is a fictional area in Minnesota, invented by Garrison Keeler.)

For a telling article on the problems with the need for all students to be "above average" see http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A52648-2003Jan27?language=printer

A teacher at Duke University reports on the final grades for a class he teaches, "There were no C's of any flavor and certainly no D's or F's."

It's a classic example of why we're producing a generation of educated idiots.

Re: Re: Numerate Labour

Not only are educated idiots being produced but educated idiots who demand entitlement. If you couple this article that samizdata.net linked (http://www.cato.org/pubs/policy_report/cpr-20n1-1.html) explaining that "intellectuals" are anti capitalist because they believe they are worth more to society than the rewards they receive from the market, with the fact that the schools are producing more "above average" pseudo intellectuals who have never measured themselves in the real world, we have a looming recipe for disaster.

Re: Numerate Labour

It depends of course whether the politician was talking about the mean or the median. When most people talk about average they mean the mean. If the politician and the surgeon both understood the average to be the mean, then they both look foolish. This is because the mean can be distorted by outlying values in the data set, so that the mean (average value) will be skewed. Consider the following data set 1, 2, 3, 4, 100. The mean (average value) is 22. But four of the values are below the mean, or 80% are below the mean. So the politicians statement is not necessarily true, and the surgeon is a in-numerate for not understanding the differnece between the mean and the median, something you might expect from a man with a scientific education. If however the politician meant the median, then he made a self evidently true statement, because that is the definition of the median, and the surgeon is right to mock him.

Re: Re: Numerate Labour

Ian Reid wrote:

"It depends of course whether the politician was talking about the mean or the median. When most people talk about average they mean the mean. If the politician and the surgeon both understood the average to be the mean, then they both look foolish."

The reference to 50% surely settles it.