"Our society is now awash in proofiness. Using a few powerful techniques, thousands of people are crafting mathematical falsehoods to get you to swallow untruths. Advertisers forge numbers to get you to buy their products. Politicians fiddle with data to try to get you to re-elect them. Pundits and prophets use phoney math to get you to believe predictions that never seem to pan out. Business [people] use bogus numerical arguments to steal your money. Pollsters, pretending to listen to what you have to say, use proofiness to tell you what they want you to believe."
The above comes from the introduction of this very practical book by Charles Seife. He is an American author, journalist, and professor. Seife has written for the scientific community. He is a member of the National Association of Science Writers.
So, what the heck is proofiness? It is "the art of using bogus mathematical arguments to prove something that you know in your heart is true--even when it's not." Seife tells us how to identify proofiness.
Seife is angry about all the ways that numbers are being twisted to erode our democracy. We're used to being lied with words. (Just ask any politician.) But numbers? They're sacred and the best kind of facts we have. And that's precisely why, Seife argues, they can be so powerfully and persuasively misleading.
In the middle of the book are twenty black and white pictures. I found these interesting.
There is also three appendices for those wanting more information. I found these to be well-written.
Finally, why is it so important to identify proofiness? Seife tells us:
"Once you know the methods people use to turn numbers into falsehoods, they are powerless against you...Understand proofiness and you can uncover many truths that had been obscured by a haze of lies."
In conclusion, this is a very practical book. And it's more than a math book; it's an eye-opening civics lesson!!
(first published 2010; introduction; 8 chapters; main narrative 240 pages; acknowledgements; 3 appendixes; notes; bibliography; index)
<<Stephen Pletko, London, Ontario, Canada>>
I've previously read a couple of this author's books and thoroughly enjoyed them. So, when I found this one, I did not hesitate to buy it - despite the less than positive reviews that it had been getting. Now, having read it, I can assert that I've enjoyed the one too - but with a small caveat.
The book's main text comprises an introduction and eight chapters totalling 242 pages. The positive side: Using many real-life examples, the author guides the reader through various ways in which numbers and data can be used to mislead. Some chapters focus on a variety of situations in different fields while others focus on one general theme. Of the book's eight chapters, as many as three concentrate on matters related to the electoral system (108 pages - 45% - of the book's main text): pre-election polls, the counting of votes and various ways of cheating - perhaps a bit much on one general issue, but still quite interesting. The down side: On the subject of elections, I feel that too much space has been devoted to the Minnesota Coleman-versus-Franken election of 2008 and the Florida Bush-versus-Gore election of 2000. In my opinion, discussions on these two elections were way overdone and should have been significantly abbreviated in favour of new topics. But despite this minor yet annoying shortcoming, this book does contain loads of fascinating information presented by a master raconteur.
You can't go wrong with this author's writing style. He has the knack for explaining potentially complex issues in a clear, friendly, lively, concise, witty and very captivating way. This work is yet another contribution to the ever growing library of books aiming at educating the public on how numbers, data and statistics can be (and have been) used to mislead and manipulate. Those interested in such matters should have a field day through reading this book.