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News Most UK MPs don't understand probability.

  1. Oct 2, 2012 #1
    There are about 650 MPs in the UK. A survey asked 97 of them "what is the probability of getting heads both times when flipping a coin twice". Incredibly (or not), 60% got the answer wrong. Worst of all about 70% of MPs from both parties said they felt confident with numbers which would seem to be in contradiction with their actual ability. However, conservative MPs faired better than labour ones.

    Read and weep:
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 2, 2012 #2


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    There's a 150% probability that politicians are idiots.
  4. Oct 2, 2012 #3


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    Maybe our next PM could be decided on a coin flip too.
  5. Oct 2, 2012 #4
    To be fair I doubt the population at large would do any better.
  6. Oct 2, 2012 #5
    Quite. In fact, there is a pretty good chance that the MPs scored better than would the broader population. Any significant mathematical ability is terribly unfashionable these days.
  7. Oct 2, 2012 #6


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    Intriguingly, among the 60% who got wrong answers, about three quarters said the outcome was 50:50. There does appear to be some method to their madness.
  8. Oct 2, 2012 #7


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    I'm an American: What's an MP?
  9. Oct 2, 2012 #8
    Member of Parliament.
  10. Oct 2, 2012 #9


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    Mathematical Pinhead
  11. Oct 2, 2012 #10


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    As a politician has to be vey wary on how he publicly responds to a question, lest his carrer be put in jeopardy, the 50:50 is a very savvy response, wherin, after acertaining popular opinion the politician can change this " riding the fence" type of reply, to one more aptly reflecting a desire and chance of being re-elected.

    No doubt a 2 heads of 100% reply would come from a royalist as the Queen always comes on the top; conversely, an abolutionist would choose the no heads or 0%.
  12. Oct 2, 2012 #11


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    Before you wish for govenrment run by intellectuals, two words or warning: Gordon Brown.
  13. Oct 3, 2012 #12


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    I'm not sure being able to multiply probabilities counts as highly intellectual. More like basic mathematical literacy. Given that statistics and probability is one of the most useful branches of maths in an everyday context, total cluelessness on the topic is a bit poor.
  14. Oct 3, 2012 #13
    There is of course a very obvious demonstration of just how poor the general understanding of the laws of probability is. It is called the National Lottery.
  15. Oct 3, 2012 #14


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    This is partly due to how the educational system works in the UK. It is entirely possible to be well educated with a degree from a good university without knowing much about math. This in turn is because there are no mandatory math courses once youve done your GCSEs, meaning many (probably most) people take their last math course when they are 15-16 years old.
  16. Oct 3, 2012 #15


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    Not quite the same question on an elemental statistics class for non-math majors, but:

    On a pretest, 85% of students got these two questions right. After a series of a few lectures and lab experiments aimed at correcting the most common misconceptions about probabilities, 72% and 78% got these two questions right, respectively. (Common Misperceptions in Probability among Students in an Elementary Statistics Class)

    Most people still understand coin flips even after being taught probabilities, so the MP's performance was relatively poor.

    (But, on the other hand, it does support the "equiprobabilities bias" identified in the paper. And one could say that lectures and labs designed to correct the equiprobabilities bias were successful - even in situations where probabilities were actually equal.)
  17. Oct 3, 2012 #16


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    British politicians are probably so used to abusing statistics that it would be instinctive to give the wrong answer.
  18. Oct 3, 2012 #17
    If only there were more Cambridge than Oxford graduates in the governent.
  19. Oct 3, 2012 #18
    If only... oh wait... :P
  20. Oct 3, 2012 #19
    Given how many of them have degrees in things like history and politics et cetera it doesn't surprise me that they didn't do too well.
  21. Oct 3, 2012 #20
    I am aware that it is perhaps more than a little sad that I hunted the following reference out. This discussion put me in mind of something I remember reading some years ago, and I have found it. It is in an introduction to the book ‘Mathematics From the Birth of Numbers by Jan Gullberg. The introduction was written by Peter Hilton, professor of mathematics at New York State University in 1996, adapted from an earlier essay titled The Mathematical Component of a Good Education. It is a lengthy consideration of what makes an educated person, and is actually well worth a read in its entirety. Anyway, here is the quote I was thinking of:

    ‘...many aesthetes are to be found positively glorying in their ignorance of, and ineptitude in, mathematics. Such people may proudly announce that they do not understand railway timetables, and are merely vexed by their difficulty in computing the tip in a restaurant. There are not to be found educated people who glory in their inability to use their language or to read properly; anybody with such a difficulty would doubtless seek to conceal it.’
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