Thursday, November 01, 2012

Book of the Month: Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences

The book of the month for November is Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences by John Allen Paulos.

Watching all of the campaigns and the debates between the Romney team and Team Obama, I've noticed some very large numbers being thrown around kind of haphazardly, used as weapons, and rejected dismissively. And it got me to thinking back on something that I've believed for a long time, and that's that Innumeracy is far worse than Illiteracy in this country and it has far-reaching negative effects on the body politic.

Read this book and it will be an eye-opener for you, and you will "know the code" when those numbers start to fly.

From the publisher's description:

Why do even well-educated people understand so little about mathematics? And what are the costs of our innumeracy? John Allen Paulos, in his celebrated bestseller first published in 1988, argues that our inability to deal rationally with very large numbers and the probabilities associated with them results in misinformed governmental policies, confused personal decisions, and an increased susceptibility to pseudoscience of all kinds. Innumeracy lets us know what we're missing, and how we can do something about it. Sprinkling his discussion of numbers and probabilities with quirky stories and anecdotes Paulos ranges freely over many aspects of modern life, from contested elections to sports stats, from stock scams and newspaper psychics to diet and medical claims, sex discrimination, insurance, lotteries, and drug testing. Readers of Innumeracy will be rewarded with scores of astonishing facts, a fistful of powerful ideas, and, most important, a clearer, more quantitative way of looking at their world. 
I know what you are thinking: the book is a dry recap of math crap that you'd forgotten since high school and never want to be reminded of again. Not so! The book is in an easy-to-read prose and it contains a lot of telling anecdotes -- from wrongful criminal convictions to false-positive drug testing to lottery winnings -- to illustrate its lessons in numerical intelligence.

Next time some politicians starts quoting "averages", you can fire back with real math and make them understand that there are several ways to compute averages, including mean, median and mode, each of which will give you a different answer.


the yellow fringe said...

I will look for this. thanks for the suggestion

Farnsworth68 said...

Thanks, yf. You can always buy it through the OPOVet Amazon link, and that way I'll get a few pennies back on the price.
--The F Man