Re: False quantification to the nth degree

Danny Yee (danny@STAFF.CS.SU.OZ.AU)
Tue, 14 Jun 1994 22:11:04 +1000

Mike Salovesh tells another horror story:
> Then I exploded. Look, Larry, I told him, you're a mathematician.
> You know damned well that there is no earthly difference between a
> GPA of 1.999 and 2.000 in mathematical terms. They go to three
> significant figures beyond the evidence. They are absolutely in-
> distinguishable. The arithmetic may be impeccable, but the math
> stinks. Why don't you tell people that truth?
> What truth, he asked. Mathematics has nothing to do with it. Our
> rules say that a GPA of 1.999 is not satisfactory; students know the
> rules; and if they can't perform according to those very clear rules,
> we have to dismiss them. That's all there is to it.
> Invincible ignorance. What more can I say?

I see this as an example of human desire for predictability.
People like to know what the rules are (and that there are rules),
even if the rules are just plain dumb. So I imagine that if you
asked students at your university whether they thought the system
was unfair most of them wouldn't.

It's like the legal system. The whole point of it is to provide
predictability and consistency, but in doing so flexibility gets
thrown completely out the window. (This is why I'm an anarchist.)

So I would argue that the thesis of James Scott's _The Moral Economy of
the Peasant_ (*) applies to all human beings, not just marginal peasants.
People will accept downright opressive tenancy conditions, insanely
complicated and expensive legal systems or blunderbuss qualification
award systems, provide they are guaranteed some sort of predictability
out of them.

Danny Yee.

(*) A great book.