(Lansing State Journal, March 16, 1994)
Numbers of all sorts show up in the news every day, and it is sometimes difficult to make sense of them. Even people who feel comfortable with math find some of the information confusing.
Often, the reported statistics are difficult to understand because different parties presents the number in different ways.
For example, consider a hypothetical community that recycled one ton of paper in 1992, and two tons in 1993. We might read the following:
All of these reports are accurate, but they give a very different impressions. How can people make sense of them?
First, everyone should try to understand certain types of mathematical operations.
Percentages, ratios, and probabilities are commonly used when reporting scientific (as well as many other types of) information. Logarithms and expoentials are also important to know because scientists often study natural phenomena that are very important to know because scientists often study natural phenomena that are vary large or very small. These topics are taught in normal public school curriculum, but are not always well remembered.
Second, one should ask questions when one reads statistics in the news. Who is reporting the numbers? Are the statistics shocking? Are they in a clear perspective? What numbers would help give a clearer picture? These are the same types of questions scientists ask when they do research and compare results.