The Numbers Game: The Commonsense Guide to Understanding Numbers in the News,in Politics,and inLife: Michael Blastland,Andrew Dilnot: Amazon.com: Books via kwout
Right now, I see four mathematical content areas:
- An inch of rain falls over a forest plot of an area 3.21 square miles. How many tons of water fall?
- Roughly, what is the total mass of carbon dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere at present?
- Suppose that a nuclear accident spreads 2.3 grams of cesium-137 uniformly over an area of 900 square miles. Compare the radioactivity from this source with the natural background.
- On average, how many gallons of gasoline per second are burned on the Pennsylvania Turnpike?
- A 10-acre farm near State College can produce enough food to support how many people on a vegetarian diet? On a "standard American" diet?
- Roughly, how many birds do you think there are in the world? How accurate do you think your estimate is?
I am looking at several books in order to get a handle on this part of the course. Right now I am reading The Numbers Game by Blastland and Dilnot. It starts with an arresting example: how many centenarians are there in the US? That should be easy: just count, right? In fact, census returns ask people to report their age. But the self-reported numbers vary wildly and are estimated to be exaggerated by factors of 20 or more in some cases. Starting from this example, the book seems to give a good overview both of the difficulty and the importance of measuring, both in absolute and relative terms.
Any more suggestions for this part? Thanks!
EDIT: I am thinking now to put the important distinction between stocks and flows in this section too. (We have to know what we are measuring!) Logically, it might belong in the Changing section but pedagogically it seems better here. A reader on Azimuth sent me a link to this interesting paper which points out how important the stock/flow distinction is in public (mis)understanding of the greenhouse effect.