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Finding False Data in the Real World

Have you ever read something that did not seem quite right? Maybe you thought “this doesn’t add up,” or “this can’t be true.” As “fake news” and biases affect the information we receive today, these thoughts have become increasingly common. Recently, there has been an influx of books on mathematical thinking that can help you learn to answer all of these questions.
This year, the math department has decided to introduce the book Weaponized Lies: How to Think Critically in the Post-truth Era, by Daniel Levitin, into the tenth grade curriculum. Amy Hand, Mathematics Department Head, found the book while searching for “an unconventional math resource that would be about statistical literacy and would talk about ways that people can be more numerate (the counterpart of literate) consumers of data.”
10th grade math classes are not the only places where Packer students can learn about critical thinking, mathematics, and common sense. A book club led by Upper School math teacher Sameer Shah is reading the book How Not to be Wrong With the Power of Mathematical Thinking, by Jordan Ellenberg.
“The book discusses how mathematics is just common sense, but extended. So there is a lot about probability and how we can use statistics and formulas that we have created to extend our common sense, and give reason as to why we think the way we do as well as why those things happen,” said Georgia Groome (‘21).
One might wonder, why is Packer talking about this topic now? In 2016, Forbes Magazine named “fake news” as the word of the year. The issue of fake news and of misleading data is a relatively new topic of debate, and Ms. Hand hopes that Weaponized Lies will help to make students more conscientious of the information that they are consuming.
“When [students] read a news article that reports quantitative data, I want them to wonder how that data was collected and if it’s been reported with any sort of spin so they can understand the significance and accuracy of it,” Ms. Hand explained.
“You always hear math is in everything, but you never really think of the reasons as to why math is in everything and the ways in which it is in everything until you discover more,” said Georgia on why the book interests her. By looking deeper into these topics, students can gain a more thorough understanding of the data and claims that we see. Georgia argues this is important to learn because “we need to train our minds to be a little bit more intellectual, to think about things in more of a mathematical way so that we are fully comprehending the situation at hand and are making the best decisions for why we should be doing things.”
Now, when every article, statistic, and graph is trying to sell you a certain point, it is vital to know and understand what you are being shown, and all the ways that you could be tricked. The math department has decided that this is something that kids and adults alike need to be taught. By introducing these books into Packer and the curriculum they hope to both teach students how to not fall into the common trap of manipulated data as well as show kids how math can be applied and useful in almost all situations.

Audrey Taplitz is currently a sophomore at The Packer Collegiate Institute and a reporter for the Packer Prism this year. She is looking forward to starting journalism due to her love of writing and interest in staying updated in her community. In addition to working on the Packer Prism, she enjoys playing sports and spending time with her friends. Audrey can be reached at autaplitz@packer.edu.

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