Saturday, March 1, 2008

Mathematical nitpickiness

Part of the usefulness of this blog is that it provides me with an outlet to make nitpicky complaints about the linguistic habits of people around me. It may or may not be useful to readers, but it's cathartic for me.

This time my complaints concern statements about math, not language, that I disagree with. I'll leave the subject matter out to protect the identity of the professor, who is generally brilliant and wonderful. But she recently made two math errors about two weeks apart that I feel compelled to correct.

In one case, she told us the range of grades and the average grade for an assignment, and informed us that the distribution was normal. Then she suggested that based on that information and knowing our individual grade, we can figure out how well we did. But we can't, except those of us whose grades are at one of the given data points, because we weren't given any information to help us figure out how flat the curve is. Knowing that I got an 14 (say) out of 20, that the average was 16 and the range between 12 and 20 doesn't tell me how I did compared to the rest of the class, except that I did below average and above the lowest score. Since in law school, all that matters is your performance compared to your peers, the amount of information given was not too helpful for most students.

In the second case, we were talking about how money in hand now is worth more than the same amount of money to be received in the future, because of inflation. The illustration used as an example the value of $1000 one year from now, assuming 5% inflation. The professor gave $950 as the current value of the money. But this is wrong, since $950 + 5% of $950 is less than $1000.


Okay - now that that's off my chest, I'll try to post something more language-related in the near future. Maybe regarding the semantics of conditionals like "if", or maybe regarding a note topic that I'm considering - a textual analysis of the controversial United Nations Security Council Resolution 242.

No comments: