A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper

A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper
by John Allen Paulos

Basic Books
Bibliography; Index
YA, C, GA**


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This is an entertaining little book about the mathematician author and his long-time hobby of faithfully reading the daily newspaper. In the 50-plus short essays, each with a newspaper like headline, Paulos dissects the manner in which news is presented, misunderstood, or misreported. He has a lot of fun with statistics and economic predictions; for example, the subtitle of one of the essays is "You can only predict things after they've happened". He challenges the way articles on science and medicine give distorted pictures. In the article, "Ranking Health Risks," he works through the calculations to show that it is possible a person who is reported to test positively on a medical test whose accuracy is reported to be 99% may still have only a 9% probability of having the disease in question. His essay, "Tsongkerclintkinbro Wins," points to possible ways of interpreting political races. Paulos uses mathematics in some of his essays, such as "Garden Club Gala: Incidence Matrices on the Society Pages." In others, he presents puzzles and problems. Hopefully, some people will pick up a few of his analytical methods when reading the local press. Paulos has fun reading newspapers; many will have fun reading his book.

--Reviewed by Anna Michaelides Penk in Science Books and Films, 31/6 (August/September 1995), p. 171.