General Question

Nevada83's avatar

Would you rather have the exact answer to a very obscure equation or the rounded answer?

Asked by Nevada83 (833points) March 4th, 2018
12 responses
“Great Question” (3points)

My brother and aunt asked me to calculate the answer to something a few years back and I gave them the exact answer which had several numbers after the decimal point. I don’t exactly remember what they said, but my aunt, frustrated for whatever reason, told me to go away and I heard my brother say, “he’s so exact, which is why I don’t like to deal with him.” Really??? REALLY???

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kritiper's avatar

The exact answer. I can guesstimate a round figure…

ragingloli's avatar

Ask her if she wants the proper milligram amount of her sleeping pills, or if you should round up to the nearest kilogram.

Nevada83's avatar

@ragingloli I may or may not have already done that…. just kidding… crickets awkwarrrrrddddd

marinelife's avatar

I always want the exact answer.

LuckyGuy's avatar

89.754% of the time I prefer the exact answer.

Soubresaut's avatar

To me, it depends on the reason I need the number. If it’s to calculate something precisely, I want the exact number—or at least as exact as I need for the calculation. If it’s just to get the idea of something, I would actually, probably, find an approximate or rounded number more helpful—easier to keep in mind and compare to other things (though if someone gave me an exact number, I’d simply round it myself.)

imrainmaker's avatar

It would really depend on the question asked. If it was some scientific calculation then it should be as accurate as possible. But if it’s for some mundane / other purpose I would assume 2–3 digits after decimal after rounding would suffice.

Zaku's avatar

It really depends on what sort of question it is and what I want it for, but I’m generally pretty good at rounding and even converting number formats.

Sometimes calculations give decimal precision that is more precise than the information going into the calculation, which is just noise complicating the answer or even making it sound more precise than it is.

Or sometimes extra precision is impractical so mentioning useless precision is adding words and detail that waste time and may make it harder to remember the part of the number they actually need to remember.

Moreover, some people are also not very math-literate, and for them, numbers that are longer than they can easily hear and understand, more precise (and so longer) than they need, or that include decimals or fractions, may confuse or frustrate them. They think you ought to know that they can only easily handle round numbers, and may feel annoyed with you. Some people are also anti-intellectual. Some may have inferiority complexes (and so are defensive when someone – especially a younger relative – uses decimals when they get confused by decimals) or left-over anger from math classes, etc.

CWOTUS's avatar

Your question itself is obscure. You don’t say what it was that you were calculating, or why, or the measurement uncertainty of whatever quantity or units you were discussing.

Given your example, you said that your answer “had several numbers [sic, “digits”, not numbers. We’re assuming the calculated value is “a number”, and the number is composed of digits.] after the decimal point”. Well, fine. But could anyone measure to those thousandths or ten-thousandths? If you’re talking, for example, about how much of an apple each of three people could eat if they shared it equally and your response is that “Each person could eat 0.33333333333 [and so on] of an apple,” then the response is technically correct – and ludicrous. Because no one can measure and compare one quantity of apple to another to so many decimal places; it’s not even scientifically realistic. It just can’t be done.

So responses on most kinds of consumer-type issues (or “kitchen science”, if you prefer) can be accurate beyond one’s ability to measure to that level of precision. In the above example, then, saying that “each person could eat a third of an apple” is also technically precise – the same level of scientific and literary precision, anyway – but it allows for the fact that no one in a normal kitchen can estimate much better than ⅓ apple ± about ½ of the ⅓.

Extending a calculated response to the thousandth’s place implies 1) that you can measure to that level of precision and 2) that it matters. It doesn’t usually, or even very often.

On the other hand, if you can estimate (or recall) π to multiple levels of precision, then have at it. Especially when you’re figuring orbital mechanics, where it might actually matter.

Pinguidchance's avatar

This is a question of some significance.

It might be irrational of me to calculate a piece of pie too accurately, except on the 14th of this month.

RocketGuy's avatar

To build something for everyday use, you only need to be as accurate as your measuring device. Contractors/builders barely go +/- 0.5 inches.

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