Math and Science

The Why Files

In a brilliant coup, The Why Files (http://www.whyfiles.org) manage to effectively bring math to the masses by exploring the science behind the news. Every week, actual news headlines are explored and deconstructed in order to touch upon the math behind the facts, so in a fell swoop, visitors stay informed on current events as well as learn about practical math / science applications.

Take, for example, a person who is unable to work due to an injury or debilitating illness and decides to apply for social security disability benefits. When he applies, he will be asked to supply medical and other information to determine if his circumstance meets Social Security’s definition of disability. It can be a daunting process, particularly knowing that up to 60% – 70% of initial applications are denied for one reason or another. What are the numbers that were used to get these percentages? If denied the person can have their file reviewed again within 60 days. If that also is denied, there is an appeal hearing possible. At this point, the fellow decides to do an online search and find a Social Security disability attorney whose offices are relatively close by. A social security attorney can appeal decisions to an Administrative Law Judge and the statistics are very good for winning the appeal. Approximately 60% -70% of these appeals win! Again, in order to get these percentages one needs the hard numbers of appeal hearing wins and loses. Math at work. And once the disabled person is granted benefits, a social security lawyer usually receives approximately 25% of the benefits up to a certain amount. Again math is need to compute the monies.

Or another example, a janitorial supply store that offers dozens of different toilet papers. Toilet paper is available in 1, 2, or 3 ply / layers. The three ply is always more expensive. Is the cost really worth the difference when it comes to the strength of the toilet paper? Is it just the ply or the “type” of paper. Some toilet paper is thin and rough, other brands are soft and thicker? And the big question: is the ply thickness the determining factor with how many toilet paper squares are used when people wipe themselves. There must be a science to determining how much toilet paper to buy at a janitorial supply store. But exactly how is it determined?

Or the massive 7.0. earthquake which struck about 25 kilometers west of Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, on January 12, 2010. More than 150,000 people may have lost their lives, according to government reports. It was a violent aftershock with a 5.9 magnitude that actually decimated Port-au-Prince on January 20th. Going even further behind the headlines, The Why Files explains that four days later, a whopping 52 aftershocks registering 4.5 magnitude or above had been recorded.

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