Rounding Errors The
Problem, disguised a little ... The government have
decided there is not enough money for them to continue to support both
motherhood and apple pie: only one of
the two can be funded. So the Ministry for Awkward Decisions asks the Department
of Useless Numbers Calculations and Experiments to tell them whether the
electorate think apple pie is more important than motherhood. The officials at DUNCE, having asked two people in the corridor and one
in the lift what they think, write down a random number between 0 and 1 that
they claim is the proportion of the population in favour of motherhood. To
add verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing number, they include a
vast number of digits after the decimal point, before passing the number back to
MAD. Here, the first official to see the number decides that the people at DUNCE
have gone over the top with the number of digits, so he cautiously rounds the
number to one fewer digits. The next official does likewise, and the next, until
when the number reaches the Minister, it has lost all its decimal digits: it is
a whole number, either 0 or 1. The Minister, not unreasonably, concludes that
the people in the survey were unanimously in favour ¼ of what? Open the File as a Word Document

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