On Math, And The Importance Of It

President Trump and President Zelensky 9/25/19. Photo by The Presidential Office of the Ukraine.

Right now, there is a study being conducted in Louisiana which may increase the survival of victims of covid-19. As reported in the pages of Houma Today, nitric oxide is being provided to those with the disease. The goal is to dilate the blood vessels in the lungs, allowing more oxygen to be transferred into the bloodstream. It’s a treatment which has been successful for others with oxygen deprivation issues.

If it’s successful, it’ll be another way to diminish the death rate, and it will join the drug treatments under investigation… at least, the ones which successfully pass through trials. This in turn will join actions like distancing and isolation. More people will live, even as the disease continues to spread through the country.

The mortality rate will drop, even as deaths increase. The disease will not be under control, but the damage will be limited. ‘The curve” will be flattened, hopefully enough to keep the new cases requiring ICU attention at a level where there are not merely enough beds for the patients but enough for the victims of other tragedies and diseases to receive proper treatment.

The effort will be judged a success… by people who have moved the goalposts and refuse to recognize that unnecessary deaths are still terrible, even if there are fewer of them occurring. They will declare their victory in defiance of the significantly lower mortality seen by other countries. They will do so because they have ignored concepts like the difference between lowering a rate and lowering a quantity, or comparative numbers.

This is another example of the dangers of ignorance. In this case, I’m not certain that all of that ignorance is willful. When it comes to politics, many people choose to ignore data that runs contrary to what they believe; it is for that reason pundits often attempt to mold existing beliefs to accord with policy decisions. Math is often seen as “difficult”, though, and many people do not reflexively comprehend what are really fairly simple concepts.

There are ways to teach people how to distinguish between increasing and decreasing rates and increasing or decreasing numbers… but that lesson, using those words, are going to be a red flag to those politically inclined to celebrate the President’s failures. Even broaching the subject will immediately shut off minds… it’ll now not be just a matter of teaching the person the math concept, but doing so from a position of political contrariness.

I believe the only answer is to approach concepts like rate vs. quantity or comparisons is to introduce the concepts independently in daily life, and hope that the person in question makes the intuitive leap on the political side on their own… and judging by the refusal of many to engage in even basic political reasoning, that’s not much of a hope.

Still, it’s something… and if there’s one thing we’re seeing a lot of these days, it’s trying to make progress on a variety of levels against a great disease. Whether that disease is physical, like covid-19, or a disease of principles like Trumpism, we do what we can in all the little ways available and hope to see it eradicated.

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