Fred A Levy Haskell (fredcritter) wrote,
Fred A Levy Haskell

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200% of Nothing, by A.K. Dewdney

The subtitle on the book cover reads: "From 'Percentage Pumping' to 'Irrational Ratios' -- An Eye-Opening Tour through the Twists and Turns of Math Abuse and Innumeracy." That's pretty accurate.

And one of the blurbs on the back cover quotes Arthur C. Clarke:

"In today's world, "innumeracy" is an even greater danger than illiteracy, and is perhaps even more common. Advertisers and politicians exploit is; intellectuals (self-styled) even flaunt it. I hope that this wise and witty book will provide cures where they are possible, and warnings where they are necessary.

"It's also a lot of fun. I can guarantee that 100%."

What can I add to that? Well, a couple of things. It really is an interesting book, and was a surprisingly easy read. However, I think I may have to read it again before too long -- I need to develop some way of internalizing my recognition of many of the math abuses so clearly illuminated here.

Also, I'm having a really hard time understanding why the likelihood of a false positive or false negative on, say, an AIDS test depends on the incidence of the disease in the population I come from. Sounds like voodoo statistics to me. Does this mean I have a different likelihood of a false positive if you consider me as coming from the population of "over-50-year-old white males" than if you consider me as coming from the population of "North American sf fans"? Just doesn't make sense to me.

On the other hand, I have no trouble at all with the fact that the law of averages demands that if I've just flipped a coin 800 times and have obtained 800 "heads," the chances of getting "heads" on the next flip is exactly 50/50.

In any case, the bottom line is I highly recommend this book.


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