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Re: Innumeracy Ruining Lives

I suppose on the numeracy versus maths issue it is worth adding the classic anecdote about this issue, the one about Einstein and the bus conductor. I managed to find what is hopefully an accurate version of the anecdote on the internet from a document called "From Misery to Enlightenment".

"To be a scientist you have to sacrifice a few things – for example,common sense. Common sense is a common quality of common people. A scientist is an uncommon person, he has an uncommon sense. With common sense you cannot discover the theory of relativity or the law of gravitation. With common sense you can do everything else.

For example, Albert Einstein was perhaps the only man in history who dealt with such big figures that only one figure would take up the whole page – hundreds of zeros following it. But he became so involved with big figures – which is uncommon, but he was thinking only of stars, light-years, millions, billions, trillions of stars, and counting them – that about small things he became oblivious.

One day he entered a bus and gave the conductor the money. The conductor returned some change; Einstein counted it and said, ”This is not right, you are cheating me. Give me the full change.”

The conductor took the change, counted it again and said, ”Mister, it seems you don't know figures.”

Einstein remembers: ”When he said to me, Mister, you don't know figures, then I simply took the change. I said to myself, It is better to keep silent. If somebody else hears that I don't know figures, and that too from a conductor of a bus.... What have I been doing my whole life? Figures and figures – I don't dream about anything else. No women appear, no men appear – only figures. I think in figures, I dream in figures, and this idiot says to me, You don't know figures.”

When he came back home, he told his wife, ”Just count this change. How much is it?” She counted it and said, ”It is the right change.”

He said, ”My God!. This means the conductor was right: perhaps I DON'T know figures. Perhaps I can only deal with immense figures; small figures have fallen out of my mind completely.” "

The above anecdote also reinforces my point in the previous post that, contrary to what the National Numeracy charity might think, the general trend in society is for low-level numerate jobs to disappear. People in the UK under 40 have probably never seen a bus conductor, except maybe on the old British TV comedy show "On the Buses" that is still shown fairly regularly on ITV3. It was a pretty skilled job, requiring somebody who was numerate and also had a sufficiently good visual memory to recognise any new faces that had appeared on the bus to collect fares from. But the suppliers of bus services decided to simplify things from their point of view, getting rid of the conductors in favour of an arrangement where travellers paid the driver as they got on the bus. Then presumably because the drivers weren't numerate enough to give change, most bus services eventually ended up operating an exact fare policy with no change given.