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Vital statistics


I am encouraged to write by your latest comment on maths, especially with regard to your suggestion of reducing the time spent in schools/university on statistics.

As a transport planner I consider an understanding of statistics, and how they may be used or misused is very important - probably more so than the complex mathematics needed by some few engineers.

Indeed the poor understanding of statistics by the general public and politicians creates many problems with policy making.

I believe it is important that everyone should have at least a basic understanding, if only to be aware that misuse of statistics is rife. In some areas of engineering this is also particularly important.

However, I accept that it is also very important that all engineers have a good grasp of maths. There are many occasions where a calculation is a factor of 10, 100 or even more wrong because of a misunderstanding of a calculation or use of specific software. This is often 'missed' because the engineer does not grasp the fundamentals.

In fact, the wider use of computers makes such errors more likely rather than less likely.

I strongly believe that a wider and more general understanding of statistics would help to reduce their frequent misuse and improve the understanding of many important issues.

Colin Sherwood, principal consultant, Mott MacDonald, Spring Bank House, 33 Stamford Street, Altrincham, Cheshire, WA14 1ES

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