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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 rally ...more

Hardcover, 271 pages

Published
September 23rd 2010
by Viking Adult

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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

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

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

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.

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

Jan 16, 2015
Andrew
rated it
3 of 5 stars

Recommends it for:
Those who are cynical about the world

Shelves:
2015-goals,
math-fun

I confess, I tend to be rather Pythagorean when I am describing the importance of mathematics. I admit, that this is not an entirely accurate description of the world. When we attempt to quantify philosophy and emotional states (or even what makes for the most perfect body type), we are abusing mathematics.

The irony is that, while many people are math-phobic, we still trust anything that has a number attached to it.

This book is horrifying in that points out the results of trusting numbers impl ...more

The irony is that, while many people are math-phobic, we still trust anything that has a number attached to it.

This book is horrifying in that points out the results of trusting numbers impl ...more

It's more insidious than just whacky advertising claims, when you get into things like beauty advice, natural health remedies or scientific claims. Consider also that quite a few journalists and pollsters can't tell you what a margin of error is, but that doesn't stop them from using it. Same with expert witnesses, lawyers and politicians.

I think the evils of proofiness are probably exaggerated in the socia ...more

Recommended to Hazel by:
NYTimes

Shelves:
interesting-reviews

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

Chapter 1

It's witty and interesting: a good 'hook' you might say. I realized pretty quickly that both the math and the epistemology are more appropriate for a high school student than a university educated adult. Being a high school teacher, though, I thought I'd keep reading and look for ways to incorporate the ideas into my classes. My students have to read a lot of business media so I thought I'd have them look for examples of each t ...more

Seife details several ways in which numbers are used to deceive or warp the truth and gives some information of things to beware of. ...more

There were only two d ...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

Seife discusses different ways that data and numbers are misused and misinterpreted, either intentionally or not, and the severity of their impacts. He seems particularly focused on the ills of the current American democracy (and probably with good reason), but it lead ...more

In the end, the author posits that the only way to prevent people from being hoodwinked and manipulated by the statistics they here is through greater mathematical sophistication. Which is all well and good, but I guess I'm ...more

The first half of the book was not very interesting or ground-breaking. The author gives real life examples of how numbers ha ...more

That's all good, and generally helpful, even if the end result is more popular than penetratin ...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”
—
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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”
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