About

Contrary to the RationalWiki quote appearing on my welcome page, I find via Google Book search that the word was used as early as 1958 in that very form, “innumeracy.” Only snippets of a quote surround the word, making the full context difficult.metamagical

Douglas Hofstadter authored a series of articles for Scientific American, Mathematical Games. They were later collected and published in Metamagical Themas. One article, titled On Number Numbness, offers up this quote, “It is fashionable for people to decry the appalling illiteracy of this generation, particularly its supposed inability to write grammatical English. But, what of the appalling innumeracy of most people, old and young, when it comes to making sense of the numbers that, in point of fact, and whether they like it or not, run their lives? As Senator Everett Dirksen once said, “A billion here, a billion there – soon you’re talking real money.” Thus, he is credited with popularizing the word.

He goes on to offer an exercise that I believe goes to the core of innumeracy, the ability to form an educated estimate of numbers both large and small. His example, the number of letters in a bookstore. He suggests, “What most people truly don’t appreciate is that making such a guess is very much the same as looking at the chairs in a room and guessing quickly if there are two or seven or fifteen.”

In the spirit of John Paulos book, Innumeracy, along with its many sequels, I hope this site will be a place to share your stories, times that you’ve noted innumeracy in your own life, or in the media.