What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? I’ve been thinking about math, or rather, the inability to do math. This fascinating article by Robert Charette exposes the “myth” of an alleged shortage of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) workers. The real problem in the U.S., Charette argues, is “a STEM knowledge shortage.”
To fill that shortage, you don’t necessarily need a college or university degree in a STEM discipline, but you do need to learn those subjects, and learn them well, from childhood until you head off to college or get a job. Improving everyone’s STEM skills would clearly be good for the workforce and for people’s employment prospects, for public policy debates, and for everyday tasks like balancing checkbooks and calculating risks.
Speaking of public policy debates, Congressional Republicans are poised for another showdown over the debt ceiling, armed with phony concern about a “growing” federal deficit. In fact, the deficit is falling at the fastest rate in decades, but very few Americans realize that, and self-appointed fact-checkers bend over backwards not to acknowledge it.
Speaking of the inability to count, Governor Terry Branstad’s administration has touted misleading “job creation” numbers for a long time, but the latest propaganda is “inflated” even if you accept the governor’s “bizarre” practice of counting only jobs created while not subtracting jobs lost.
Politicians aren’t the only ones who let ideology interfere with basic numeracy. This must-read piece by Chris Mooney summarizes findings from a new study: “people who are otherwise very good at math may totally flunk a problem that they would otherwise probably be able to solve, simply because giving the right answer goes against their political beliefs.” Regardless of party affiliation, research subjects with higher math skills were better at solving a problem about the effectiveness of skin cream. When the same numbers were presented as evidence related to handgun bans, liberal Democrats and conservative Republicanss were more likely to arrive at the wrong answer if the correct answer went against their opinions about gun control and crime.
This is an open thread.