Friday, February 24, 2012

Numbers can be impossibly simple

Print Friendly and PDF
While watching the evening news over the last week or two, I have become somewhat benumbed by the overwhelming use of polling and numbers in general in defending, opposing, or explaining away some political candidate or philosophy. Sometimes I get the feeling that the networks think they are broadcasting to a highly numerate and statistically literate population. Or do they?

I highly recommend that, if possible, you read The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Public Opinion Polls, by Russell D. Renka of Southeast Missouri State University. In the equivalent of a few pages he explains many of the concerns that people should have when reading or hearing about polls, and when being asked to participate in a poll.  If I were to attempt to do justice in this blog entry....

Speaking of numbers and numeracy, here is a very simple situation:
Take a whole number. If it is odd, triple it and add 1. If it is odd, divide by two. Repeat as needed.

The above rule will generate sequences of whole numbers. Some samples are here:
3, 10, 5, 16, 8, 4, 2, 1
5, 16, 8, 4, 2, 1
7, 22, 11, 34, 17, 52, 26, 13, 40, 20, 10, 5, 16, 8, 4, 2 1

These three samples all end with the number 1. If the rules continued, an unending sequence of 4, 2, 1, 4, 2, 1,.. would result.  So we stopped at 1.

Your task today is to identify a number to start this sequence so that the sequence never gets to 1: wherever it ends up, if it ends, it just isn't the number 1.

Good luck.


No comments: