Why is innumeracy so widespread even among otherwise educated people? The reasons, to be a little simplistic, are poor education, psychological blocks, and romantic misconceptions about the nature of mathematics. My own case was the exception that proves the rule. The earliest memory I have of wanting to be a mathematician was at age 10, when I calculated that a certain relief pitcher for the then Milwaukee Braves had an earned run average (ERA) of 135. (For baseball fans: He allowed five runs to score and retired only one batter.) Impressed by this extraordinarily bad ERA, I diffidently informed my teacher, who told me to explain the fact to the class. Being quite shy, I did so with a quavering voice and a reddened face. When I finished, he announced that I was all wrong and that I should sit down. ERAs, he asserted authoritatively, could never be higher than...

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