Furry Logic

This is my favourite photo. It’s of my youngest daughter, Keira, and my dog, Skye, while on a walk this past spring. I said “Say cheese” and they did. Both of them. Unknown to me at the time, it would be the last picture I would take of Skye. In the next two weeks, Skye’s health rapidly deteriorated to the point where my wife and I had to make the difficult decision. It has been tough on all of us. I still catch myself holding the gate open for her behind me as I go between the front and back yard.

This has been particularly hard for my 7-year-old daughter, Gwyneth. She understands why we are not getting another dog. But that hasn’t stopped her from researching dog breeds on the internet. Non-stop. If you ever meet my daughter, she’ll ask you questions like “D’you know that Labrador retrievers have webbed feet for swimming?”, “D’you know that pugs have a hard time breathing because of their flat faces?” and “D’you know that poodles are hypoallergenic?” Think Jonathan Lipnicki in Jerry Maguire. She’s that kid. And I love her for it.

But this is my math blog…

The other day Gwyneth came to me to tell me she wasn’t happy about what she had read on JustDogBreeds.com. Here it is:

Did you catch what was troubling my daughter? Here’s two more:

Here’s our conversation, as I remember it¹:

Gwyneth: They say Golden Retrievers are the smartest. And they say Papillons are the smartest. But they also say Poodles are the smartest. Shelties too!

Me: So, what’s the problem?

Gwyneth: They can’t all be the smartest.

Me: So, what should it say?

Gwyneth: One of the smartest. Not the smartest.

The smartest means:

Golden Retrievers > Papillons
Papillons > Golden Retrievers

Not okay with Gwyneth.

One of the smartest means:

Golden Retrievers ≥ Papillons
Papillons ≥ Golden Retrievers

She’s cool with that.

At the same time as this conversation, Dr. Keith Devlin was writing about the use of language in the case against Lance Armstrong:

Though the layperson typically thinks of mathematicians as being focused on numbers, that is actually not the case. That false view is a consequence of the mathematics taught in high school. Only at university are you likely to encounter the mathematics done by the professionals. High among our real areas of expertise are logical reasoning, rigorous proof, and the precise use of language.

Maybe it’s because her dad is bothered by things like “increased student scores by 50%” when they mean “increased the number of students passing by 50%” that my daughter is concerned about the precise use of language. And I love her for it.

¹The Department of Giving Credit Where Credit is Due asks you to check out Christopher Danielson’s talking math with your kids posts.

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