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# Proofiness: The Dark Arts of Mathematical Deception

**The bestselling author of**

*Zero*shows how mathematical misinformation pervades-and shapes-our daily lives.According to MSNBC, having a child makes you stupid. You actually lose IQ points.

*Good Morning America*has announced that natural blondes will be extinct within two hundred years. Pundits estimated that there were more than a million demonstrators at a tea party rall ...more

Hardcover, 271 pages

Published
September 23rd 2010
by Viking

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"Proofiness" by Charles Seife is a well-intentioned book that suffers a definite crisis of identity. The jacket blurb and author's introduction promise a guided tour of the seamy underworld of statistical malpractice, that is, an account of the most common ways data are misrepresented or misinterpreted in the media, either through carelessness or because of a deliberate effort to mislead. Seife is not the first author to consider the issue of misleading data analysi ...more

Pros: Increased awareness of the dominant ways numbers and statistics can be exploited/manipulated/colored to support statements which those same data do not actually support, or represent something as more meaningful than it really is.

Cons: I kept getting visions of Stephen Colbert, because Seife has this thing for coining terms. It got me irritated quickly (please stop trying to be a hipster?!). Surely there are proper terms for these concepts ...more

I would have given it three stars if not for the author's annoying decision to invent a cutesy vocabulary around the topic. The title was just the tip of that iceberg. Very distracting.

If you want to learn about the ways people twist math and statistics to meet their agendas, then there's a whole lot of good stuff in here. Stuff like the 2000 American presidential election or several of the cases Supreme Justice Scalia (now deceased) was a part of.

I enjoyed the parts about statistical error versus systemic error, as in when the news media say their polls are within a 3% margin of error, they're talking about statistics. This ...more

Seife does an excellent job of keeping his terminology light and humorous. This is a welcome addition to a book that otherwise might be a depressing and overwhelming indictment of our political and juducial systems. The concepts are complicated, the stakes are high, and Seife communicates it all wit ...more

Moreover, on the technical side, he seems not to understand the difference b ...more

I personally found this book engrossing, and I think i ...more

Sometimes data is displayed in a graph with the axes chosen in such a way that the representation is effectively magnified; this was also described in How to Lie with Statistics by Darrell Huff. I've seen this same thing many times in my field of engineering, often from people who were not really aware that they were distor ...more

The main idea is that humans are bad with numbers. Rather than calculating risk and such things, we are ...more

There were only two d ...more

Jul 07, 2012
Chris Aldrich
rated it
really liked it
·
review of another edition

Shelves:
mathematics,
popular-science

He doesn't prove that mathematics is essential for a democracy, but he certainly shows how the lack of proper use of mathematics can fray heavily at the edges!

This was a great book to have read over a long Fourth of July holiday. Though many people may realize some of the broad general concepts in the book it's great to have a better structure for talking about things like Potemkin numbers, disestimation, fruit packing, cherry picking, apple polishing, comparing apples to oranges, causuistry, ra ...more

This was a great book to have read over a long Fourth of July holiday. Though many people may realize some of the broad general concepts in the book it's great to have a better structure for talking about things like Potemkin numbers, disestimation, fruit packing, cherry picking, apple polishing, comparing apples to oranges, causuistry, ra ...more

This is a fascinating exposition on how numbers and their treatment can – and are – used to influence us in the consideration of ideas or arguments. We are treated to a variety of clever ploys used in the presentation of data that are used to confuse us. These include Potemkin numbers, disestimation, fruit packing (including cherry-picking), and regression analysis. On the way towards learning these techniques, I picked up some interesting tid-bits:

A for ...more

Recommended to Hazel by:
NYTimes

Shelves:
interesting-reviews

In 2010, mathematician and science writer Charles Seife used the same concept to title his book on misleading uses of math

*Proofiness*, holding tha ...more

Flip a coin.

Proofiness demonstrates that there often comes a time when numbers subtract from our overall knowledge of a subject, rather than add. And when you are trying to parse eight-digit election results down to the last three digits, you've probably reached that point.

This is particularly true for what Seife calls "Potemkin numbers," w ...more

Indeed. Reading Proofiness is an unsettling and uncomfortable process, as Seife gives compelling, mathematica ...more

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CHARLES SEIFE is a Professor of Journalism at New York University. Formerly a journalist with Science magazine, has also written for New Scientist, Scientific American, The Economist, Science, Wired UK, The Sciences, and numerous other publications. He is the author of Zero: The Biography Of A Dangerous Idea, which won the PEN/Martha Albrand Award for First Nonfiction. He holds an M.S. in mathemat
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“There are many ways to generate numerical falsehoods from data, many ways to create proofiness from even valid meaurements. Causuistry distorts the relationships between two sets of numbers. Randumbness creates patterns where none are to be found. Regression to the moon disguises nonsense in mathematical-looking lines or equations or formulae, making even the silliest ideas seem respectable. Such as the one described by this formula:

Callipygianness=(S+C)x(B+F)/T-V)

Where S is shape, C is circularity, B is bounciness, F ir firmness, T is texture, and V is waist-to-hip ratio. This formula was devised by a team of academic psychologists after many hours of serious research into the female derriere. Yes, indeed. This is supposed to be the formula for the perfect butt.

It fact, it's merely a formula for a perfect ass”
—
4 likes

Callipygianness=(S+C)x(B+F)/T-V)

Where S is shape, C is circularity, B is bounciness, F ir firmness, T is texture, and V is waist-to-hip ratio. This formula was devised by a team of academic psychologists after many hours of serious research into the female derriere. Yes, indeed. This is supposed to be the formula for the perfect butt.

It fact, it's merely a formula for a perfect ass”

“Just as it's important to take the changing value of a dollar into account when comparing spending over time, it's important to take doctors' changing diagnoses into account when looking at disease trends”
—
2 likes

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