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Math is an opinion

Statistics, polls, algorithms... if we talk about finance, politics, but also soccer and personal issues, numbers become interpretable

By Gianfranco Gatta

Enrico Cuccia, the legendary banker who has held the reins of Italian Finance for about thirty years, used to say: "Shares cannot be counted, they are weighed!" In other words, in the power games inside Mediobanca's "parlor", it counted more the name of the family than the majority of any shareholder; it goes without saying that the family that "weighed the most" was that of the Agnelli.

Statistics, that is said to know numbers very well, is the science that states: "that if I eat two chickens and you eat zero chicken", we ate a chicken each.

More questionable than that!

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Then there are the polls, the delight of Italian politics. Made on an infinitesimal sampling of the population, hiding behind a "gap" of 2/3% by default or by excess and therefore with a mathematical margin of error of 4/6% to the test of facts, elections are almost always fake; not to mention the exit pools. Yet they pride themselves on using scientific methods. Exhilarating.

To remember a private fact, which made me laugh a lot, when I went to negotiate my remuneration for the double role of both director and author at RaiSat Ragazzi, the director, Professor Carlo Sartori, said to me: “Don't you think that one plus one equals two? Thank heaven if it equals 1,2”. What is a professor said that?

One thing is certain: numbers, beyond mathematics, are interpretable. Let's take a practical example on the percentages: today, 6.9 of the teaching staff are unvaccinated and this is a figure that, however, goes beyond the homogeneity in the territory, in Piedmont it is one thing and in Lazio another; then it does not specify the category of teachers themselves, elementary school, high school or universitie and to remain in the territory, Veneto or Campania and so on.

Moving on to politics: if there is one thing that this legislature has taught us is that one is not worth one, especially in the case of Mario Draghi, one is worth as much as the numbers of the two Houses of Parliament, at least in terms of perception or if you prefer interpretation.

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To stay within politics, today its primary mode of communication is based on algorithms. What are they? To simplify, an algorithm is nothing more than a simple procedure that attempts to solve a given problem by applying a certain number of elementary steps; you have to perform a certain frequency based on six fundamental properties. Easier to do than to explain!

Fact is that if a computer programmer enters data for his own use and consumption or those of the customer, it does not take into account many practical and humoral variations. For the algorithm we can say what Bob Kennedy said about GDP: "... it measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our knowledge nor our wisdom... It measures everything, in short, except what makes life truly worth living".

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Let's go back to the facetious. An Oxford professor has decided, through an algorithm of him, that the best soccer player of all time, in absolute terms is Cristiano Ronaldo. Apart from the fact that Gianni Rivera, the most intelligent player who has come down on a football field (probably he does not even know who he is), does not appear in his Top Ten, and can replace Falcao, Rijkiaard, Iniesta, Gorginho and Seedorf.

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Messi, the Flea, in second place and Pelè, O ’Rey, in third is blasphemy; the nickname alone determines the abysmal difference. Maradona is ungenerous in ninth, luckily (of the professor) in the ranking appear Platini and Cruyff, although classified on unacceptable eighth and tenth place.

The factors taken into consideration by the teacher (of what?) are as much aleatory as they are direct, such as: club goals or international goals. He did not take into account determining factors, such as: the diversity of times, training methods, media pressure and the supply of money. In my personal opinion, Cristiano Ronaldo hardly enters an unlikely Top Ten. But rankings are vulgar towards the players themselves and offensive towards the fans: everyone has their idol.

We remind to the “Oxford Professor”: doubt is annoying but certainty is stupid!



Image Credits: Photo by Edge2Edge Media on Unsplash