A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper

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Employing the same fun-filled, user-friendly, and quirkily insightful approach that put Innumeracy on best-seller lists, Paulos now leads us through the pages of the daily newspaper, revealing the hidden mathematical angles of countless articles. From the Senate, the SATs, and sex to crime, celebrities, and cults, Paulos takes stories that may not seem to involve mathematics at all and demonstrates how mathematical naivete can put readers at a distinct disadvantage. Whether he's using chaos theory to puncture ...
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A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper

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Employing the same fun-filled, user-friendly, and quirkily insightful approach that put Innumeracy on best-seller lists, Paulos now leads us through the pages of the daily newspaper, revealing the hidden mathematical angles of countless articles. From the Senate, the SATs, and sex to crime, celebrities, and cults, Paulos takes stories that may not seem to involve mathematics at all and demonstrates how mathematical naivete can put readers at a distinct disadvantage. Whether he's using chaos theory to puncture economic and environmental predictions, applying logic and self-reference to clarify the hazards of spin doctoring and news compression, or employing arithmetic and common sense to give us a novel perspective on greed and relationships, Paulos never fails to entertain and enlighten.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Paulos (Beyond Innumeracy) examines the often overlooked mathematical angle behind news stories in this informally written, enlightening survey. He uses simple arithmetic to expose consumer fallacies, electoral tricks and sports myths; applies the concept of self-reference to puncture inflated news reporting or celebrity coverage; and assesses health risks and accounts of racial or ethnic bias using probability and other tools. The Temple University math professor also investigates whether SAT (Scholastic Assessment Test) scores are a predictor of success in college; the enormity of the cost of the savings-and-loan bailout; safety considerations in GM trucks. Loosely modeled on the format of a daily newspaper, his analysis ranges from politics to crime to lifestyles and obituaries, with discussions of futurists' attempts to spot global trends, ``man-on-the-street'' reaction stories, deceptive advertisements, meaningless precision. A timely antidote to mathematical naivete. QPB, Library of Science, Natural Science Book Club, Astronomy Book Club, Reader's Subscription and Newbridge Executive Program alternates. (Apr.)
Library Journal
Whenever mathematicians or scientists read a newspaper or magazine article, they have a tendency mentally to compose a letter to the editor taking issue with the conclusions or mode of presentation. Most are content to leave these letters unsent, but not Paulos (Beyond Numeracy, LJ 4/1/91). He writes not only letters but also op-ed articles in his continuing effort to combat the innumeracy of the general public. In this book, he presents a collection of these compositions, covering almost every type of feature that might appear in your daily paper, from the front page to the advertisements. Some of these pieces are new, and some have appeared elsewhere. They are mathematically undemanding, humorous, and instructive. Hopefully, the reader will learn from them to apply a dose of mathematical common sense when reading the papers rather than automatically accepting everything that appears. For popular math collections.-Harold D. Shane, Baruch Coll., CUNY
Paulos Innumeracy reminds us that editors and reporters lie with statistics; they dissemble, debase, and slant. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR booknews.com
From the Publisher
“A wise and thoughtful book, which skewers much of what everyone knows to be true.”Los Angeles Times

“A fun, spunky, wise little book that would be helpful to both the consumers of the news and its purveyors.”Washington Post

From Barnes & Noble
Examining the pages of the daily newspaper, the author reveals the hidden mathematical angles in the stories we read every day. Clarifies the hazards of spin doctoring and news compression and shows how math and common sense put articles in perspective.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385482547
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/28/1997
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 5.17 (w) x 8.01 (h) x 0.63 (d)

Read an Excerpt

The Top 10 list has become a staple of newspapers, television, and magazines for a variety of reasons, the top ten being:

1.  Ten is a common and familiar number, the base of our number system. Numbers are rounded to 10 or to multiples of ten or tenths.  The resulting distortion, of course, need not have much to do with reality.  We're told, for example, that we use 10 percent of our brain power, that 10 percent of us consume 90 percent of the world's resources, and that decades define us.  (Is there anything more vapid than explanation by decade? In the free love, antiwar sixties, hippies felt so and so; the greed of the eighties led yuppies to do such and such; sullen and unread Generation Xers never do anything.)

2.  People like information to be encapsulated; they're impatient with long, discursive explanations.  They want the bare facts, and they want them now.

3.  The list is consistent with a linear approach to problems.  Nothing is complex or convoluted; every factor can be ranked.  If we do a, b, or c, then x, y, or z will happen.  Proportionality reigns.

4.  It's a kind of ritual.  Numbers are often associated with rites, and this is a perfect example.

5.  It has biblical resonance, the Ten Commandments being one of its first instances.  Others are the ten plagues on the Egyptians, the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the requirement that at least ten men be present for public prayer, and Joseph's ten brothers.

6.  The list can be a complete story.  It has a beginning: 1, 2, 3; a middle: 4, 5, 6, 7; and an end, 8, 9, 10.  Many stories in the news are disconnected; the list is unitary.

7.  It's easy to write; there is no need to come up with transitions.  Or even complete sentences.  The same holds for the 10, 50, and 100 years ago today fillers.

8.  It's flexible and capable of handling any subject.  Since there are never any clear criteria for what constitutes an entry on such a list, items on short lists can easily be split, and those on long lists can just as easily be combined.

9.  Lists are widely read (or heard) and talked about, but don't require much room in the paper or much airtime.

10.  People realize it's an artificial form and like to see if it's going to run out of good points before it gets to 10.

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Table of Contents

Introduction 1
Lani "Quota Queen" Guinier: Voting, Power, and Mathematics 9
Bosnia: Is It Vietnam or World War II?: Psychological Availability and Anchoring Effects 14
Recession Forecast If Steps Not Taken: Unpredictability, Chaos, and Pooh-Poohing the Pooh-Bahs 19
Afta Nafta, Lafta; Free Traders Exult: Headlines and the Inverted Pyramid 27
Pakistan's Bhutto Gambles in Trade Negotiations: On Dice and Bluffing 30
Clinton, Dole in Sparring Roles: Who's News and Grammar Checkers 34
Iraqi Death Toll Unknown: Benchmark Figures in War, Crisis, and the Economy 38
D'Amato Agrees Hillary Most Honest Person Clinton Knows: Ambiguity and Nonstandard Models 42
Fraud Alleged in Pennsylvania Senate Race: Political and Mathematical Regression 45
Cult Members Accuse Government of Plot: Newspapers, Coincidences, and Conspiracy Theories 49
Company Charged with Ethnic Bias in Hiring: Test Disparities Need Not Imply Racism 59
SAT Top Quartile Score Declines: Correlation, Prediction, and Improvement 63
Guns Will Soon Kill More Than Cars: Comparability and Intensity 67
Abortion Activists Bomb Clinic: Prohibitions and Arithmetical Arguments 69
DNA Fingers Murderer: Life, Death, and Conditional Probability 72
Darts Trounce the Pros: Luck and the Market 74
Cellular Phones Tied to Brain Cancer: Multiplication, Health, and Business 79
GM Trucks Explode on Side Collision: From Pity to Policy 83
The $32 Billion Pepsi Challenge: Advertising and Numerical Craftiness 86
Brief Fads Dominate Toy Industry: S-Curves and Novelty 90
Area Residents Respond to Story: Repetition, Repetition, Repetition 94
Researchers Look to Local News for Trends: The Present, the Future, and Ponzi Schemes 96
A Cyberpunk Woody Allen: How to Write a Profile of the Fledgling Celebrity 101
Tsongkerclintkinbro Wins: Everybody's Got an Angle 104
Florida Dentist Accused of Intentionally Spreading AIDS: Rumors, Self-Fulfilling Prophecies, and National Obsessions 107
Interlude: Selves, Heroes, and Dissociation 110
Candidates Contradict Each Other's Denials: Self-Reference, Intentions, and the News 113
Special Investigator Says Full Story Not Told: Compressibility and the Complexity Horizon 120
Newspaper Circulation Down: Factoids on Tabloids 126
Computers, Faxes, Copiers Still Rare in Russia: Information and the Commissars 128
Ranking Health Risks: Experts and Laymen Differ: The Dyscalculia Syndrome 133
Asbestos Removal Closes NYC Schools: Contaminated Mountains Out of Mole Spills 140
Super Collider a Waste of Money: Science Journalism and Advocacy 144
Harvard Psychiatrist Believes Patients Abducted by Aliens: Mathematically Creating One's Own Pseudoscience 147
FDA Caught Between Opposing Protesters: Statistical Tests and Confidence Intervals 151
Senators Eye Hawaii Health Care Plan: Scaling Up Is So Very Hard to Do 154
Breakthrough Forecast by End of Decade: You Can't Know More Than You Know 157
Rodent Population Patterns Difficult to Fathom: Ecology, Chaos, and the News 160
More Dismal Math Scores for U.S. Students: X, Y, and U 164
761 Calories, 428 Mgs. Sodium, 22.6 Grams of Fat per Serving: Meaningless Precision 171
Top Designs for the Busy Working Woman: Fashion, Unpredictability, and Toast 173
Agassi Wins Again: Scoring and Amplifying Differences 176
New Survey Reveals Changing Attitudes: Societal Gas Laws 178
Near-Perfect Game for Roger Clemens: How Many Runs in the Long Run 181
Bucks County and Environs: A Note on Maps and Graphic Games 184
Ask About Your Mother-in-Law's Lladro: Explanation, Advice, and Physics 186
Garden Club Gala: Incidence Matrices on the Society Pages 189
Ten Reasons We Hate Our Bosses: Lists and Linearity 191
Stallone on Worst-Dressed List: Traits and Rates 193
New Biography Fills Much-Needed Gap: Books and News 195
Which Way Mecca?: Religion in the Paper 197
R. L. Vickler, 85, Aide to Truman: The Length of Obituaries 199
Conclusion 201
Bibliography 205
Index 207
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 3 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 14, 2014

    numbers - scary

    prolly one of the better things I read at my pinko, pillow-biting college.

    Yay PHIL 101.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 19, 2009

    Best book around for showing non-math types how cool math can be.

    Genius: A clear, simple, interesting and engaging approach to quantitative literacy. We would be a smarter nation if everyone read this enjoyable book.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 9, 2002

    A entertaining read

    Yes, you read that correct. Entertaining. This book walks you through basic statistics and applies it to everyday situations. This book will make you chuckle and think at the same time.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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