Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences
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Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences

3.82 of 5 stars 3.82  ·  rating details  ·  2,101 ratings  ·  170 reviews
Dozens of examples in innumeracy show us how it affects not only personal economics and travel plans, but explains mis-chosen mates, inappropriate drug-testing, and the allure of pseudo-science.
Paperback, 208 pages
Published August 18th 2001 by Hill and Wang (first published 1988)
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Mar 29, 2008 Jerzy rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: math
Most of the book is a collection of examples commonly seen in other pop math books: how a particular gambling game or con trick lets the house win most of the time; tricky things about Bayes' Theorem and Simpson's Paradox; how raising the price by 40% and then lowering the new price by 40% does not give you back the original price; the difference between statistical correlation and causation; etc.

I hoped the book would be an in-depth look at where innumeracy stems from and how to prevent it. The...more
On page 94, Paulos bemoans the fact that people attribute combination to causation: "...when people reason that if X cures Y, then lack of X must cause Y."

But just a few pages later, on 108, he states: "In short, there is an obvious connection between innumeracy and the poor mathematical education received by so many people. [...] Still, it's not the whole story, since there are many quite numerate people who have had little formal schooling."

For those who are only as bright (or dim) as Paulos...more
Chris Dudding
This was my second or third time through this small yet immensely powerful book. This should be required reading for just about anyone, high-school and college on up. It's not about math so much as it is about how we (often erroneously) think about numbers in our everyday lives. If everyone read and absorbed this material, much sensational media about perceived dangers (from sharks, vaccines, GMOs, and so forth) would be met by a much more skeptical audience, one primed to ask substantive questi...more
I didn't learn anything new about mathematics, but I did learn some things about how to convey mathematics to the public. In some ways he does this well; in some ways he does it quite badly. I found it particularly grating how often he made snide references to Ronald Reagan; I hate Reagan as much as the next man, but are you actively TRYING to systematically alienate conservatives? It definitely is fun for someone who loves math; it's full of lots of fun little Fermi estimations, some facts that...more
This book speaks for itself. I mean, people should understand mathematics beyond, like, knowing how many shoes they need for how many feet they have.
Overall, Innumeracy is a very good book addressing a very important topic, mathematical illiteracy and its consequences. As a professional statistician, I'm not the ideal person to review this book. I want to nitpick at how Paulos expresses certain statistical concepts and challenge nuances in his logic in other sections. I want to complain about how little math and how few numbers the book contains. But if I step back and acknowledge the book was not written for me, I can see that Innumeracy co...more
jiawei Ong
Until I came in contact with this book, I never knew I could be termed as a “numerate.” Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy And Its Consequences, written by John Allen Paulos, had not only taught me a new vocabulary word but had also shown me an unappealing truth, innumeracy. Innumeracy, “the inability to deal comfortably with the fundamental notions of number and chance,” was the overlooked issue John Allen Paulos presented to me. Personally, I was rejoiced to be able to understand myself bett...more
Michael Quinn
Innumeracy is a strong general overview of basic mathematical principals for any person interested in the subject. It would also be nice reading for any math student, barring the section on pedagogy, which isn't so relevant.

The book's biggest strength is it's perspective. By writing from the position of someone dismayed by a the public's lack of mathematical knowledge, Paulos is able to engage the reader in a polemic against ignorance. The humor gives the reader a sense of "insider baseball," s...more
"The same people who cringe when words such as `imply' and `infer' are confused react without a trace of embarrassment to even the most egregious numerical solecisms." (p. 3)

"Confronted with these large numbers and with the correspondingly small probabilities associated with them, the innumerate inevitably respond with the non sequitor, `Yes, but what if you're that one,' and then nod knowingly, as if they've demolished your argument [about still consequential differences in probability:] with t...more
Yang Ming Wen
"Why do even well-educated people understand so little about mathematics?", exclaimed the author in the book's introduction. But after some pounding on the question, one could realize that such claim can hardly be valid by definition. After all, how can someone be regarded as "well-educated" if he has not be learned some of the fundamental mathematical principles presented in the book? Thus the question could be reiterated as:

"Why do even well-educated people who understand mathematics, demonstr...more
An interesting, entertaining, as well as informative book. I don't generally read books about mathematics and the like, but the title of the book was an instant attention-grabber.
There's nothing quite like reading a book for which you are the target audience, because I am indeed, innumerate. As predicted by the author, I'm the kind of person who, when presented with an enamoring mathematical technique, instantly wonders whether or not this would be necessary to know for the quiz.
To me, and man...more

Very easy read on how the general public just doesn't get numbers and math.
This is the book that made "innumeracy" a household word, at least in some households. Paulos admits that "at least part of the motivation for any book is anger, and this book is no exception. I'm distressed by a society which depends so completely on mathematics and science and yet seems to indifferent to the innumeracy and scientific illiteracy of so many of its citizens."

But that is not all that drives him...more
Some of the examples are a little out of date (Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, for instance...) but I'm finding it very well written and accessible. I would consider myself numerically literate (numerate) but I have not been employing my math knowledge on a daily or professional basis. As such, I don't agree that conceptualizing scientific notation is easier than a number written verbally or in longhand (say, 1,000,000,000,000 versus 1 trillion versus 1.0 x 10^12) but I do believe it's usef...more
Manolo Almagro
El libro es un compendio de hechos que ya aparecen en otras obras del estilo (el clásico de "has respirado el mismo aire que un personaje histórico", y numerosos juegos de azar explicados). No está mal para leer si no se tiene mucho que hacer, nada más.

Durante todo el libro persiste la sensación de que el autor no pretende llegar a ningún punto en especial. La exposición es clara, eso sí; pero el hecho de que el libro sea tan generalista y no se profundice en ningún tema, teniendo todo el rato l...more
Do you know the old IT/electronics saying that "only intelligent one understand that 1+1 is equal to 10"? Well you might be forgiven for not knowing binary but the problem of illiteracy and especially mathematical type of it is widespread and frankly speaking quite disturbing. Sure, what would a philosophy student need trigonometric functions or logarithmic smoothing of some multi-variable function for you ask yourself and you might be right, yet the problem persists with even more extreme cases...more
The author has a hidden agenda, satirically bringing up Reagan in the case of him believing he had the absolute power in making decisions in comparision to the millions of Americans who believe in astrological readings as fact. There is also mention of the case regarding Clever Hans and his horse where it was believed that the horse could count the number of a dice that his trainer threw on the floor, but was actually lead by a gesture his trainer would make. Although I believed the horse would...more

This book is along the same lines as “What the Numbers Say”, although it wasn’t as engaging. And since “What the Numbers Say” was written after this one, they did build off it, expanding on several topics Paulos touched upon.

Still, Paulos does a fantastic job driving home the need to shake off the shackles of innumeracy and become a numerate society again.

I really enjoyed his discussions of various ways being numerate helps one think clearly and logically and understand the world around us. He i...more
Jose Gaona
"El hombre anúmerico" es un ensayo del divulgador matemático John Allen Paulos que pone de manifiesto los problemas con los que la gente común tiene para manejarse con las matemáticas en su vida diaria. Desde la comprensión de informaciones estadísticas en noticias de actualidad hasta los teje manejes con los que las distintas pseudociencias pretenden embaucar al público más incauto. Paulos divulga, pero también problematiza y ofrece soluciones, al mismo tiempo que analiza la sociedad norteameri...more
Jose Luis
Me llamó mucho la atención por el tema, siendo una persona que gusta mucho de las matemáticas. Se trata de un ensayo donde se critica a nuestra sociedad por ver con buenos ojos que la gente no domine los conocimientos básicos de las matemáticas, y que sea hasta deseable, y cómo, sin embargo, tiene muchas consecuencias en nuestra vida diaria y en el devenir de la sociedad, en donde ha crecido la influencia de la charlatanería, la manipulación y la desinformación impunemente. El único gran problem...more
I've read 50% and it's boring. There are books that covers the same topics as in this one, but they are better written, with an extensive material and quite reader friendly:

about probability/statistics misconceptions: How We Know What Isn't So: The Fallibility of Human Reason in Everyday Life,

missusing science :Bad Science,

human fallacies: Thinking, Fast and Slow,

and about paranormality scams Paranormality: Why We See What Isn't There.

Nina Zheng
I really like this book because it was extremely informative. It made me realize an issue that I never realized before, innumeracy. There are people who are unable to deal comfortably with numbers and when given statistics they just believe it even when it may be incorrect. For example, if someone says that there is 50% chance of rain on Saturday and 50% chance of rain on Sunday, there is 100% chance of rain on the weekends. This is definitely not true. However, people who are innumerate would...more
Mark Flowers
I had a lot of problems with this book--his examples were often uninteresting or too removed from real events; he obviously had a lot of overarching points to make but instead of elucidating these points, he couched them all in terms of small examples; his math was probably too hard for innumerates and too easy for numerates--but nevertheless, he makes some incredibly important points about the ways in which ignorance of basic mathematical concepts lead to innumerable (haha) real world problems....more
I've always been afraid of math, because I've experienced firsthand how badly I do. But this book not only gave me confidence in what math skills I do have, it gave me confidence to stop saying "this is math/math-related? Then I definitely can't do it."
Everything's explained so nicely, so understandably, and in such fun and funny ways, I don't think there's anyone who doesn't like math or stats or who doesn't do well with math, who would read this book and not enjoy it, or not feel like math and...more
Overall, Innumeracy is an interesting and thought-provoking book. I certainly agree with the author's thesis of the problem of innumeracy in American society (and it was published in 1998), which still rings true today. Many of the examples he provided are interesting and relevant. With that said, I think some topics could have been expounded on. Some of the statistical concepts were not adequately explained, leaving me unsure of why and how those conclusions were reached--an irony considering t...more
Well I decided rate this book with a five star because of the importance and of course the broad quality of the text. This is a really a must read. It addresses one of the main problems society faces today. Mathematical illiteracy. The book is full of good examples and travels a path through probability theory very well defined and extremely well explained. The text is also keen in terms of humour as well as in non intuitive results that we can achieve if we dignify to use some of the most eleme...more
Pamela Deters
This book was quite good at covering the drawbacks of not understanding math in a world that depends to heavily on it. It was originally written back in 1988 and some of the current events it discusses are a bit dated. There were a few ideas for changes in schools but the author seems to be trying to encourage math majors. For most of us the math in school just needs to be understood and applied. How many times has your history teacher or PE teacher asked you to do a math problem? The idea he pr...more
Matt Lee Sharp
The age shows a little in this book, but most of the pop culture references are common enough that it's not super distracting. I didn't find much of the book enlightening. Most of the examples can be found in any number of similar books, I'm sure. But I did appreciate the sections dedicated to math education. While reading Paulos rail against the innumerates, I had a similar feeling to reading Hitchens or some other polemicist: a big hurrah that I was on the right side of this fight. And then I...more
not quite what expected -- weirdly focused on how nutty it is to believe in astrology or ESP!
But- for example- when explaining how probabilities are calculated, equations are given without much explanation about how it's set up & where the numbers come from!! For the slightly innumerate like myself-- i kept thinking, why that? where'd that come from? Of course, I'd keep reading along-- and later, as he'd come back to probabilities again-- i'd be able to pick up more on how that the equation...more
Mark Tuminello
An accessible, interesting read about the difficulty many people have truly understanding the difference between very large numbers. We have a handle on what a thousand really means, but what is the difference between a billion and a trillion? Do they feel kind of the same to you? If so, this book could potentially blow your mind.
Quick skim of topics:
Debunking "impossible" coincidences, predictive dreams, UFO's, astrology, numerology, ESP, sports streaks, pseudo-science. The use of probability in legal arguments. Getting a sense of scale. Challenges of math in education. Ways we fool ourselves by over-personalizing, filtering, re-framing, mistaking correlation w/ causation. Math anxiety and romantic misconceptions about math. Impacts of innumeracy on society.


Moderately interesting, but ultimately just a discursive spe...more
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