200 Percent of Nothing: An Eye-Opening Tour through the Twists and Turns of Math Abuse and Innumeracy

200 Percent of Nothing: An Eye-Opening Tour through the Twists and Turns of Math Abuse and Innumeracy

by A. K. Dewdney
     
 

200% of Nothing In this delightfully witty excursion into the world of mathematical manipulation, popular columnist and math whiz A. K. Dewdney unveils the vast array of ways in which numbers are twisted and statistics are turned in order to fool the unsuspecting public. From the case of the "Incredible Expanding Toyota" to that of the "National Security Googol,"

Overview

200% of Nothing In this delightfully witty excursion into the world of mathematical manipulation, popular columnist and math whiz A. K. Dewdney unveils the vast array of ways in which numbers are twisted and statistics are turned in order to fool the unsuspecting public. From the case of the "Incredible Expanding Toyota" to that of the "National Security Googol," Dewdney exposes the slick tricks and subtle schemes used by advertisers, politicians, special interest lobbyists, stockbrokers, car dealers, and just about anybody who tries to impress us with numbers, charts, and graphs. At turns funny and infuriating, Two Hundred Percent of Nothing is packed with real-life examples from the worlds of advertising, government, business, and media that demonstrate all types of math abuses. Dewdney identifies them by name, from "number bludgeoning" to "occult sampling" and shows us exactly how they play upon our innumeracy—the common inability to understand the rules of percentages, ratios, statistics, and basic math logic. You may want to buy the halogen light bulbs that an ad claims will save you 200% on energy costs, until Dewdney points out that it’s impossible to save any more than 100% of something. And you may never want to play the lottery again when you learn that your chances of winning are mathematically equivalent whether you play or not. Why should we be skeptical of 4 out of 5 dentists surveyed? What’s the bull behind the bull market? Do statistics really prove it’s safer to fly than drive across country? When would financing a car through a dealer be a bad deal? With the wry wit and professorial wisdom that made his math column a favorite among Scientific American readers for nearly a decade, Dewdney gives the answers. Furthermore, he explains the basic math behind the answers so that the next time you see mathematical chicanery, you’ll recognize it. Though you may be shocked at how pervasive math abuse is, you may be even more astonished to discover how rapidly you can learn the simple tricks and basic logic of defending yourself against it. As Dewdney writes in his Introduction: "It is far easier to calculate a percentage than it is to drive a car." Math abusers are every-where, but with Dewdney’s shrewd pointers, you can easily catch them at their own game.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Corporations, special-interest groups, government and the media deliberately misuse mathematics to sell products and propositions, charges Scientific American math columnist Dewdney. In an entertaining, stinging expose, he lashes advertisers, car salespeople, traffic safety officials, mutual fund-managers, lotteries, soft-drink manufacturers and others who pump up percentages and mangle ratios, charts and numerical logic. Aided by scores of examples. Dewdney punctures politicians who doctor figures to serve their purposes, reporters who distort statistics, alternative health practitioners who inflate their claimed cure rates. Happily, readers need only basic mathematics to follow his reasoning. After assessing the shocking ``innumeracy'' of today's students, Dewdney presents a brief self-defense course for readers who want to be mathematically streetwise. Illustrated. (May)
Library Journal
Comedian George Carlin, as the ``Hippie-Dippie Weatherman,'' comments on the media abuse of numbers when he says in his forecast, ``And now for some temperatures from around the nation: 58, 72, 85, 49, and 77.'' Dewdney (mathematics, Univ. of Western Ontario), whose articles in Scientific American were culled for this book, discusses this type of math abuse, as well as ``percentage pumping,'' ``irrational ratios,'' ` `compound blindness,'' ``filtering,'' and ``dimensional dementia.'' Dewdney's approach is similar to John Allen Paulos's Innumeracy (Hill & Wang, 1989) but delightfully more witty. Both books can be considered essential sources on math abuse, but Dewdney's less technical style is likely to appeal more to lay readers. Public school math teachers should also be able to use Dewdney's excellent examples in teaching math literacy. For all public and school libraries.-- Dale Farris, Groves, Tex.
Booknews
The author of Scientific American's Mathematical Recreations series for over eight years debunks a lot of deliberate and accidental misuse of mathematics in everyday life. Among his favorite targets are lotteries, cancer risks, and government finances. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780471577768
Publisher:
Wiley
Publication date:
01/28/1993
Edition description:
New Edition
Pages:
192
Product dimensions:
6.28(w) x 9.31(h) x 0.73(d)

Meet the Author

A. K. Dewdney, Ph.D., is Associate Professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Western Ontario. Well known for his popular "Mathematical Recreations" column, which ran in Scientific American for more than eight years, he is also the author of several books, including The Armchair Universe and The Planiverse: Computer Contact with a Two-Dimensional World.

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