Innumeracy is “inability to deal comfortably with the fundamental notions of number and chance”.

I which there was a better term for “innumeracy”, a term that would reflect the importance of analyzing risks, uncertainty, and chance. Unfortunately, I can’t find such a term. Nevertheless, the problem is huge. In this long post, Tom Breur reviews many important aspects of “numeracy”.

Tom Breur

21 October 2018

It has long been known that the general public is sometimes remarkably out of tune with math and numbers. In 1988 mathematician John Allan Paulos wrote a classic “Innumeracy” that is chockful of striking examples of misinterpretation of numeric evidence. Paulos refers to innumeracy as “… inability to deal comfortably with the fundamental notions of number and chance …” Personally, I consider it the mathematical equivalent to illiteracy. Another classic from Paulos is “A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper” (1995) which contains a lot of satire, debunking ridiculous claims in the press. It highlights more spectacular examples of innumeracy.

Paulos illustrates innumeracy with lighthearted anecdotes and many common, everyday scenarios. These examples highlight how readers might be fooled by misleading quantitative evidence. His examples span diverse topics like probability and coincidence, misguessing extremely small or very large numbers, pseudoscience and superstition…

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