26 July 2019

Hieroglyphic numbers

At the via it was noted that the numbering system is non-positional, so the symbols can be arranged in any order.

Also cited there, and tangentially related, was this rather sad statistic:
A survey by Civic Science, an American market research company, asked 3,624 respondents: “Should schools in America teach Arabic numerals as part of their curriculum?” The poll did not explain what the term “Arabic numerals” meant.

Some 2,020 people answered “no”. Twenty-nine per cent of respondents said the numerals should be taught in US schools, and 15 per cent had no opinion.

John Dick, chief executive of Civic Science, said the results were “the saddest and funniest testament to American bigotry we’ve ever seen in our data”.

Seventy-two per cent of Republican-supporting respondents said Arabic numerals should not be on the curriculum, compared with 40 per cent of Democrats. This was despite there being no significant difference in education between the two groups.

“They answer differently even though they had equal knowledge of our numerical nomenclature,” Mr Dick said. “It means that the question is about knowledge or ignorance but [also] something else – prejudice.”

This bias was not limited to conservative respondents and attitudes towards Islam.
Another poll question was worded: “Should schools in America teach the creation theory of Catholic priest George Lemaitre as part of their science curriculum?”

Seventy-three per cent of Democrats answered “no”, compared to 33 per cent of Republicans – with some respondents on either side presumably assuming Lemaitre’s theory was related to intelligent design.

In fact, the Belgian priest was also a physicist who first discovered the universe was expanding and proposed its origins lay in the explosion of a single particle - an idea that became known as the Big Bang theory.

“While Lemaitre is more obscure than Arabic numerals, the resulting effect is almost identical,” Mr Dick said. “Dems are biased against Western religion, if latently."


  1. Um, you don't have to be biased against Western religion in order to understand the First Amendment.

    1. I'm not sure I understand your logic. The "creation theory of
      George Lemaitre" has nothing to do with religion. That theory is that the universe is expanding as a result of the big bang. The fact that people (who don't know what the "creation" theory consists of) reflexly say not to teach it means that they are reacting to the word "Catholic" in the question.

  2. I feel these two questions are similar but quite different. I would bet that significantly more Americans can define the Arabic numeral system compared to those who have even heard of Lemaitre, including myself.

    I am aware of what the Arabic numeral system is and didn’t fall for that one.

    I see where Miss Cellania is coming from regarding the 1st Amendment and the second question. After reading the second question and explanation about Lemaitre and his “creation” theory, I feel this one can be misleading or there are two variables one could react to. I instantly associated “creation” with religious “creationism” and thought that it should not be taught in public schools due to the 1st Amendment either. Ignorant association yes, but it had nothing to do with prejudice like the responses to not teach the Arabic numeral system in public schools do. I feel that if the word “creation” was left out (or “creationism” didn’t exist in the first place), I would guess that the results would not suggest as strongly that Dems are biased against Western religion. I simply reacted to the word “creation” and not to the fact that Lemaitre was “Catholic”.

  3. "...Dems are biased against Western religion, if latently." Perhaps this is related to the fact that Republicans are generally heavily biased toward Western religion, specifically Aggressively Evangelical Pseudo-Christianity, which incidentally bears about as much resemblance to Christ's actual teachings as a bowling ball resembles a bowl of soup. Two sharply divided political parties, each defining themselves in large part by how different they are from the other. Why is this a surprise that they would have different religious biases? I should have thought that would be obvious.

  4. As long as they go through with the ban on dihydrogen monoxide. That stuff is everywhere.

  5. 2 thoughts:

    1. Polls that use questions like this, with the only 2 possible answers being "yes" or "no," are pretty meaningless, though the people who create them use the results as if they are some sort of scientific evidence of bias or ignorance, or both. These shoiuld have at least a 3rd option, something alongthe lines of, "I'm not sure," or "I need more information." My immediate response to the first question was, "Rather silly question." My first thought upon reading the second question was, "What is Lemaitre's creation theory?" How can a person have an opinion on something that he/she likely knows nothing about? Those 2 questions may be evidence of bias or bigotry, but even worse, they show the propensity of people to render an opinion based on ignorance.

    2. Just to be clear, the 1st Amendment does not prohibit public schools from teaching about religion. I spent a good part of my teaching career teaching classes on world history. Part of the lessons on most civilizations included a look at the culture's religion, and part of that religion is the creation story (or myth). These stories are presented as just what they are, stories that a people developed to explain the origins of their world and their place in it. These creation stories are an important part of the history of human cultural evolution. The 1st Amendment does not prohibit teaching about them from an historical and cultural perspective.

    1. I agree with your viewpoint, but I'll point out that the survey participants were given the third choice of "no opinion" -


      Only 15% had no opinion re Arabic numerals, but 27% offered no opinion on the second question.

    2. Thanks. I tried to to find that information, but I obviously did not try hard enough. I suppose given the 3 choices, I would have went with "no opinion" on the LeMaitre question.

  6. I don't think you can derive too much from either question. All they do it test whether people know that we use Arabic numbers and who Lemaitre is. If people don't, in either question, they will react to the other information in the sentence. It's not bigoted to not want to write in a script that you're not familiar with, nor is it weird to oppose science teachings from a religious figure. Specifically the catholic church does not have a good track record with science. I guess all you can derive from that answer it that the general public is more aware of Galileo than of Lemaitre.

    Looking for biases with questions like these shows more bias with the questioners than with the respondents.

    1. If I asked you (or a hundred random people) "is it safe to drink dihydrogen monoxide?" there are only two possible correct answers. "Yes" from people who know the reference is to water, and "I don't know" from people who don't know that. To say "no" is a profoundly wrong answer, from which certain conclusions might be derived about the people responding with that assertion.

      Same with the Arabic numbers question. "No" is not a logical answer.


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