Thursday, July 24, 2014

Adventures in the Land of the Mathematically Challenged

A letter to the editor in today's Daily Progress tries to draw attention to the problem of expensive housing in the Charlottesville area.

The letter writers, however, display a sad sort of incompetence when it comes to their grasp of everyday mathematics.

They explain that

according to the U.S. Census, the median value of owner-occupied housing in Charlottesville from 2008-2012 was $286,400. With the median household income in Charlottesville at $44,535, a mortgage on the median home value is likely more than half of your monthly net income.
That may all be accurate but the howler follows in the next paragraph:
Homes under the median value are rare, and are often no more than 800 square feet and/or in complete disrepair.
The second part of that sentence may or may not be true, but the first part is demonstrably false.

It is not possible that homes "under the median value are rare," since, by definition, 50 percent of all homes are under the median value. (The other 50 percent are, by definition, above the median value.)

Perhaps the writers were trying to say that homes available for purchase that are also below the median value are rare, but that is not what they said.

Would this kind of innumeracy (mathematical illiteracy) be solved by adopting the Common Core, or made worse by it? Or would this demonstration of innumeracy be solved more simply by having a good copy editor?

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