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A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper [Paperback]

John Allen Paulos
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)

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A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper
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Book Description

Sept. 26 1997 038548254X 978-0385482547 Reprint
With the same user-friendly, quirky, and perceptive approach that made Innumeracy a bestseller, John Allen Paulos travels though the pages of the daily newspaper showing how math and numbers are a key element in many of the articles we read every day.  From the Senate, SATs, and sex, to crime, celebrities, and cults, he takes stories that may not seem to involve mathematics at all and demonstrates how a lack of mathematical knowledge can hinder our understanding of them.

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In this book the author of Innumeracy : Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences reveals the hidden mathematical angles in countless media stories. His real life perspective on the statistics we rely on and how they can mislead is for anyone interested in gaining a more accurate view of their world. The book is written with a humorous and knowledgeable style that makes it great reading. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Math professor Paulos's irreverent investigation of the often faulty use of statistics and fact in newspaper articles.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars All the Quantification That's Fit to Print June 4 2003
By Donald Mitchell #1 HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
I found Professor Paulos's book, Innumeracy, to be a delightful expression of the key elements of mathematical ignorance that can be harmful, along with many new ways to see and think about the world around. You can imagine how much more pleased I was to find that A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper is an improvement over that valuable book. Every editor and newspaper writer should be required to read and apply this book before beginning their careers. Almost all those who love the news will find some new appreciation for how it could be better reported. Those who will benefit most are those with the least amount of background in math, logic and psychology. Although the subjects are often related to math, if you can multiple two numbers together using a calculator you will probably understand almost all of the sections. If you already know math well, this book will probably only provide amusement in isolated examples and you may not find it has enough new to really educate you. Most of the points are regularly treated in the mathematics literature.
In the introduction, Professor Paulos reveals a long and abiding love for newspapers. And he reads a lot of them. He subscribes to the Philadelphia Inquirer and the New York Times, skims the Wall Street Journal and the Philadelphia Daily News, and occasionally looks at USA Today (he likes weather maps in color on occasion), the Washington Post, the suburban Ambler Gazette, the Bar Harbor Times, the local paper of any city he is in, and the tabloids.
This knowledge is reflected in the book's structure. There are four sections, reflecting the typical four section format of many weekday papers.
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2.0 out of 5 stars I expected more than this book delivered March 11 2002
Paulos did a fine job with his previous book, Innumeracy. However, this book falls short. I was hoping to see concrete examples of news stories "gone mathematically bad," and then have Paulos show what was wrong with those stories. However, the examples used were more ambiguous -- i.e., general stories about certain topics. It was even more frustrating given that his chapter titles appeared to promise some concrete news story, but then failed to deliver. For example, "Afta Nafta, Lafta" had nothing to do with NAFTA or free trade. While it did provide some less-than-illuminating discussion about how details tend to come after the headline and first paragraph, I failed to see how any of this related to a substantive topic. Also, the preceeding chapter about economic forecasts came to the remarkably banal conclusion that reality can be more complex than simple models, illustrated by a transformationof the Laffer Curve into a squiggly line. OK, fine, but how about an admission that Laffer's analysis came with the standard "ceteris paribus" clause that all social scientists should be familiar with. And how about citing empirical investigations that test Laffer's predictions while controlling for confounding factors?
There are some good lessons scattered throughout this book, but as a previous reviewer said, it does tend to be scattered and lacking any common thread. Joel Best's "Damned Lies and Statistics" is a much better read.
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4.0 out of 5 stars An explanation of much of what is wrong Nov. 22 2000
By Charles Ashbacher TOP 500 REVIEWER
Exploring once again the numerical ignorance of the American society,Paulos examines serious realities and the potentially harmful consequencesof the lack of a basic number sense in the general population. From supposed experts "explaining" the economy and the recent actions of the stock markets to sheer guesses given as hard facts, so much of our lives is affected by incorrect suppositions. It also points out how many jobs in our society are economically irrelevant in a very real sense.
Consider the section entitled "Darts Trounce the Pros: Luck and the Stock Market," where stocks were picked by throwing darts and the results compared to that of the "pros." Over a six-month period, the choices performed by the random process has a 42 percent gain as opposed to the Dow Jones rate of 8 percent and the experts rate of 2.2 percent. As time went on, the gains tended to move toward equality, but the reality is that those stocks picked by market watchers generally match the behavior of a random selection. In other words, money spent on "expert" stock advice is essentially wasted, with the obvious exception of insider trading.
Economic forecasts are also subjected to a similar investigation. In a convoluted world economy, where the behavior is essentially chaotic, it is impossible to predict what the future behavior will be. Recently, the executive and legislative branches of the U. S. government have been pounding each other over their separate long term predictions of the behavior of the U.S. economy. Such "knowledge" is being used in the attempt to balance the budget of the U.S. federal government.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Should be required reading for journalists Sept. 7 2000
Should be required reading for journalists, and, since it isn't, the rest of us should read it so we'll recognize how we are being misled by journalists' ignorance.
Using actual stories covered in the various sections of the newspaper, Paulos explains mathematical concepts that should have been considered by the reporter. He says that, in addition to the Who, What, Where, When, Why and How, reporters should ask how many, how does that quantity compare with other quantities, are we looking at the right categories and relationships, are the statistics derived from a random sample or a collection of anecdotes...
One example Paulos provides shows how readers can be misled by numbers, especially if the reporter uses the numbers provided by a biased source. In a story about contamination, suppose a pint of a toxic chemical were spilled in the ocean and the chemical becomes evenly dispersed around the globe. Seems like a minuscule amount of contamination, and not worth worrying about. But, if the ocean water were tested, it would show almost 6,000 molecules of that toxic chemical in a pint of water. Now, it looks like a reason to panic.
Although not an easy read, most of the math is simply and entertainingly presented, and occasional dull passages are short and easily skipped.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent book
Well worth the read. It's not preachy like Innumeracy, it entertainingly goes through the ways that news sources screw up their numbers.
Published on May 1 2003 by Collin Campbell
2.0 out of 5 stars A mixed bag
This book had a few good examples of how numbers are used and abused in the media. The book was genenrally good when it kept its discussion to narrowly defined cases (the... Read more
Published on May 15 2002
2.0 out of 5 stars Good idea, poor execution
I found this book numbingly dull. After about 40 pages I lost any hope of maintaining the one-minded devotion to extract the interesting concepts buried within.
Published on May 12 2002 by Terry Sanders
5.0 out of 5 stars transformed my reading of the paper
A funny, instructional tour of the newspaper as seen by a mathematician. Each section starts out with a headline and a brief sketch of a news story and then Paulos discusses in a... Read more
Published on May 17 2001
3.0 out of 5 stars Useful but fragmented, like the newspaper
This is a clever and useful book about the foibles in the media's use of statistics, with short primers on complexity, psychology, and probability theory -- and an occasional lapse... Read more
Published on Feb. 13 2001 by David Gibson
2.0 out of 5 stars I wanted to enjoy the book, but was disappointed
There seem to be very few actual newspaper examples, and too many contrived discussions. Comes across as preaching at the reader, but without enough facts to back up what he says,... Read more
Published on Dec 22 2000 by Rich Fullerton
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful commentaries on everyday life
I truly enjoyed this book, and skim it again every summer.
This work is like chatting with an extremely thoughtful friend who takes nothing for granted, and examines every... Read more
Published on Aug. 28 2000 by Noah R. Freeman
5.0 out of 5 stars Journalist's Requirement
All journalists should be encouraged to read this witty book as well as other members of the chattering classes. Read more
Published on Aug. 4 2000
4.0 out of 5 stars It'll make you skeptical
This book will make you wonder about every "statistic" that you've ever seen reported. Not really a "math" book per se, but just showing that by applying some... Read more
Published on June 18 2000 by Kevin
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