September 1, 2009

Canadian Math

I read an Anglican Journal article the other day titled “Re-thinking how we do church.” (For the benefit of those who are unfamiliar with it, I should point out that Anglican Journal is a publication of the Anglican Church of Canada.) The article is dated today, but was posted a few days ago. It is the usual jeremiad about declining church membership, high average age of churchgoing Anglicans, and the apparent contrasting success of more evangelical churches. The article is the first of a series about a “paradigm shift” supposedly taking place in the Canadian church.

The unusual thing about this story is its math. Things are bad enough without computing statistics wrong. According to Anglican Journal, Anglican Church of Canada membership declined from 1.3 million to 658,000 from 1961 to 2001. This is a lamentable decline, to be sure, but it is not the 53% decline mentioned in the article. One doesn’t even need a calculator to see that a 53% decline has not occurred. If there were a 50% decline, attendance in 2001 would be half of the 1961 attendance or 650,000. But the 2001 attendance was 58,000 more than that! In fact, the decline was just over 49% (i.e., [1,300,00 - 658,000]/1,300,000). Try as I might, I cannot figure out where the 53% figure comes from, even if I assume the figures presented were rounded but the calculations were made with more precise numbers. Of course, the article also reports “that the Anglican Church in Canada has lost more than half of its membership in the past 50 years,” but the period of 1961 to 2001 is only 40 years. Go figure!

The Anglican Journal article has more computational errors, however; it also offers statistics on the decline of membership of The Episcopal Church. We are told that, from 1965 to 2007, Episcopal Church membership dropped from 3.5 million to only 2.2 million. This decline is reported to be even higher, 55%. Again, notice that half of 3.5 million is 1.75 million, so Episcopal Church membership certainly declined less that 50%. In fact, assuming the numbers in this article are correct, the decline was just over 37% (i.e., [3,500,000 - 2,200,000]/3,500,000). There is quite a significant difference between 55% and 37%.

What is going on here? Do the values of integers in Canada fluctuate with the value of the Canadian dollar? Is math taught in Canada? (This may be unfair, as the article is reporting on the views of the Rev. Gary Nicolosi, who, we are told, is a “transplanted American.”) I have no idea, but the Rev. Mr. Nicolosi, the writer, or the editor—perhaps all three—need serious remedial mathematics education.

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