A libertarian inclined blog for teachers and learners of all ages. Comments, emails and links to other educational stuff welcome.

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Next entry: A brief holiday
Previous entry: Education debts
Wednesday June 11 2008

Ben Goldacre, writes about this (which I already reported here):

An early factual claim in Reform’s document is simple: “about 40% of mathematics graduates enter financial services”. This - we are invited to agree - is a good thing. The report’s reference for 40% is a simple link to prospects.ac.uk, which isn’t very informative as it’s rather a large website. Chasing through the pages there, you will find “What Do Graduates Do?”, and then the maths page. There were 4070 maths graduates in their sampling frame of 2006. Only 2010 of those, however, are in UK employment (1.5% are working abroad, and the rest are studying for a higher degree, or a teaching qualification, or unemployed, or unavailable for employment, and so on).

Of those 2010 - not 4070 - 37.9% are indeed working as “Business and Financial Professionals and Associate Professionals”. So correct me if I’m wrong – I’m always eager for that to happen – but by my maths 2010 x 0.379 = 761.79, and that divided by 4070 = 0.1871, but let’s round up like the angry maths profs did and say that about 20% of maths graduates enter financial services. Not 40%. I call this “arithmetic”. For a bunch of people complaining about the substitution of woolly modern notions like “relevance” and “applied maths” in place of high end mathematical techniques, they don’t make a particularly good advert for their own skill set.

I’ve added the link in that.

After criticising what he believes to be other arithmetical errors, and errors of other kinds, in the report, Goldacre ends by saying:

I’m happy to agree that maths is economically useful, that maths exams are dumbing down, that people avoid difficult school subjects, and that humanities graduates who think maths is uncool are bores. What I would like is someone who can be bothered to sit down and reinforce my prejudices without perpetrating crass errors of overinterpretation and getting the basic arithmetic wrong. I’ve never fully seen the point of them, but I suspect that’s what thinktanks are there for. Again, I may be wrong.

No, I think that’s about right.  Think tanks exist to supply facts to support your preferred prejudices. They translate reasonable opinions, held for other reasons to do with your overall worldview, into pseudo-deductions from only the facts of the particular matter being dealt with.  The more honest ones are also honest about their prejudices, and don’t only do this.  The seriously bullshit ones do nothing else.  (See this, by me.)