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200% of Nothing: An Eye-opening Tour Through the Twists and Turns of Math Abuse and Innumeracy (Mathematics) [Paperback]

A. K. Dewdney
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

11 Mar 1996 Mathematics
Acclaim for "In today′s world, ′innumeracy′ is an even greater danger than illiteracy, and is perhaps even more common. Advertisers and politicians exploit it; 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%."––Arthur C. Clarke "Dewdney retells with charm and wit magnificent morsels of mathematical mayhem discovered by his army of volunteer ′abuse detectives.′ From ′sample trashing′ to ′numerical terrorism,′ from ′percentage pumping′ to ′dimensional dementia,′ 200% of Nothing plumbs the depths of innumeracy in daily life and reveals what ordinary people can do about it. A rich, readable, instructive, and persuasive book."––Lynn Arthur Steen, Professor of Mathematics, St. Olaf College

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Product details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Jossey Bass; New Ed edition (11 Mar 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0471145742
  • ISBN-13: 978-0471145745
  • Product Dimensions: 22 x 15 x 1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,328,967 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description

Amazon Review

If you know the difference between lies, damned lies and statistics, give a copy of A K Dewdney's 200% of Nothing to your friends to get them up to speed. If you're not up to speed yourself, consider this funny, engaging little book a crash course in numeracy, the mathematical equivalent of literacy. Opening with two chapters on the importance of this dying talent, Dewdney (formerly Scientific American's "Mathematical Recreations" writer) spooks the reader with real examples of government agencies, media outlets and--of course--car salesmen deceiving their audiences with beguiling mathematical sleights-of-hand.

It's all too easy for us to think we're immune to such tactics until we actually see them laid out for us in prose as clear and disarming as Dewdney's. From there he delves more deeply into practical examples of particular problems that often catch us unaware. Gambling, advertisements using bizarre-but-normal-looking charts and bad science all come in for thorough examinations, and the reader is amazed and occasionally angered at the shamelessness of the purveyors of misleading statistics.

The book closes with two chapters designed to make readers "mathematically streetwise", with exercises to help you grasp ratios, very large and small numbers and probabilities more intuitively. 200% of Nothing inspires learning and makes it interesting--if you want to see through the fog of numbers surrounding politicians and advertisements, there's no better place to start. --Rob Lightner

From the Inside Flap

200% of Nothing In this delightfully witty excursion into the world of mathematical manipulation, popular columnist and math whiz A. K. Dewdney unveils the vast array of ways in which numbers are twisted and statistics are turned in order to fool the unsuspecting public. From the case of the "Incredible Expanding Toyota" to that of the "National Security Googol," Dewdney exposes the slick tricks and subtle schemes used by advertisers, politicians, special interest lobbyists, stockbrokers, car dealers, and just about anybody who tries to impress us with numbers, charts, and graphs. At turns funny and infuriating, Two Hundred Percent of Nothing is packed with real–life examples from the worlds of advertising, government, business, and media that demonstrate all types of math abuses. Dewdney identifies them by name, from "number bludgeoning" to "occult sampling" and shows us exactly how they play upon our innumeracy—the common inability to understand the rules of percentages, ratios, statistics, and basic math logic. You may want to buy the halogen light bulbs that an ad claims will save you 200% on energy costs, until Dewdney points out that it’s impossible to save any more than 100% of something. And you may never want to play the lottery again when you learn that your chances of winning are mathematically equivalent whether you play or not. Why should we be skeptical of 4 out of 5 dentists surveyed? What’s the bull behind the bull market? Do statistics really prove it’s safer to fly than drive across country? When would financing a car through a dealer be a bad deal? With the wry wit and professorial wisdom that made his math column a favorite among Scientific American readers for nearly a decade, Dewdney gives the answers. Furthermore, he explains the basic math behind the answers so that the next time you see mathematical chicanery, you’ll recognize it. Though you may be shocked at how pervasive math abuse is, you may be even more astonished to discover how rapidly you can learn the simple tricks and basic logic of defending yourself against it. As Dewdney writes in his Introduction: "It is far easier to calculate a percentage than it is to drive a car." Math abusers are every–where, but with Dewdney’s shrewd pointers, you can easily catch them at their own game. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

3.0 out of 5 stars
3.0 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars "200 Percent of Nothing" is 50 Percent Paulos 27 Jan 1998
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
When Dewdney took over Douglas Hofstadter's Scientific American column, he had some pretty big shoes to fill. But he did a marvellous job, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading his Computer Recreations every month. They were original and inspiring. With 200 percent of nothing, Dewdney is clearly scraping the barrel. When I read it, I thought it was OK, although I found the style of writing pretty bad. Still, there was enough enjoyable material there. However, I recently read John Allen Paulos' "Innumeracy", and that was a real shocker. Paulos' book is *so* much better than Dewdney's, that it is embarrasing the latter one. Not only that, but comparing the two books, it is evident that Dewdney leaned heavily on "Innumeracy". Yes, he *does* reference the book, but many, many of his examples are taken straight from it. Worse even, he writes the examples in his own words, which makes it immediately clear that he is not even close to the perfect style of writing Paulos displays. After having read "200 Percent of Nothing", I gave it a 7, but after reading "Innumeracy" (which I rate at 10), Dewdney's feeble attempt devaluates to a 4. "200 Percent of Nothing" is 50 Percent Paulos and 150 Percent hot air.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Confirms what I've always suspected. 4 Jan 1998
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
The way you feel when you see those 1-900-pshycic info-mercials (how can ANYONE be SO stupid?). Well, after reading this book, I can summize why the people who DON'T call DON'T call... Certainly an adequate and explainative adaptation to modern, everyday reasoning; as well as how it realistically corresponds to the average "Joe". Put new batteries in your scientific calculator, and have a ball comparing notes! At times, somewhat a little insulting to your intelligence, while at other times opens your eyes to simple little things that you've seen 100 times, put into a true but different perspective. Bottom line...I'm glad that I bought it, and will most assuredly reference it from time to time now that its on my bookshelf.
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Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I enjoyed it for what it is but it would be useful to have an updated version. Sure someone would be able to do that.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 2.9 out of 5 stars  10 reviews
57 of 59 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars "200 Percent of Nothing" is 50 Percent Paulos 27 Jan 1998
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
When Dewdney took over Douglas Hofstadter's Scientific American column, he had some pretty big shoes to fill. But he did a marvellous job, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading his Computer Recreations every month. They were original and inspiring. With 200 percent of nothing, Dewdney is clearly scraping the barrel. When I read it, I thought it was OK, although I found the style of writing pretty bad. Still, there was enough enjoyable material there. However, I recently read John Allen Paulos' "Innumeracy", and that was a real shocker. Paulos' book is *so* much better than Dewdney's, that it is embarrasing the latter one. Not only that, but comparing the two books, it is evident that Dewdney leaned heavily on "Innumeracy". Yes, he *does* reference the book, but many, many of his examples are taken straight from it. Worse even, he writes the examples in his own words, which makes it immediately clear that he is not even close to the perfect style of writing Paulos displays. After having read "200 Percent of Nothing", I gave it a 7, but after reading "Innumeracy" (which I rate at 10), Dewdney's feeble attempt devaluates to a 4. "200 Percent of Nothing" is 50 Percent Paulos and 150 Percent hot air.
15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Can You Get An Edge On Winning The Lottery 21 Jan 1999
By Bucherwurm - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Certainly this country of ours needs to be concerned about its illiteracy problem. It perhaps should be even more concerned about innumeracy, the mathematical equivalent of illiteracy. While many of us would be insulted if someone questioned our ability to comprehend the written word, we quite easily laugh at being idiots when mathematics is involved.
As a result we think nothing of an ad promising that a new light bulb will save 200% on energy. If that statement sounds OK to you, then you better read this book or one like it.
Here's a slim tome that addresses some of the more egregious insults to the field of mathematics and statistics. If you are totally innumerate it will raise your numbers IQ a few points. It's an easy book to read; too easy, as a matter of fact, and that's a shame. The author provides very little theory, many, sometimes useless, anecdotes, and some soap box preaching about mathematics being the premiere science.
He does touch on the mathematics of probablity, a subject that most people should know more about. Anyone with a basic knowledge of probability quickly realizes that coincidences don't just happen, they MUST happen. That fact throws a wrench into a lot of "sciences of the paranormal." And remember, from a statistical standpoint your chance of winning the big lottery is no different whether you buy a ticket or don't buy it. Is there a way to improve your chances for winning big? Yes. Pick numbers that no one else picks like, 1,2,3,4,5,6. That way you run less of a chance of getting tied with someone.
There are other books out there that give you better information, but this one is OK if you want to learn a little applied math without having to turn your brain on at all.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Confirms what I've always suspected. 4 Jan 1998
By mudbug@cmq.com - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The way you feel when you see those 1-900-pshycic info-mercials (how can ANYONE be SO stupid?). Well, after reading this book, I can summize why the people who DON'T call DON'T call... Certainly an adequate and explainative adaptation to modern, everyday reasoning; as well as how it realistically corresponds to the average "Joe". Put new batteries in your scientific calculator, and have a ball comparing notes! At times, somewhat a little insulting to your intelligence, while at other times opens your eyes to simple little things that you've seen 100 times, put into a true but different perspective. Bottom line...I'm glad that I bought it, and will most assuredly reference it from time to time now that its on my bookshelf.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Dewdney lacks imagination 3 April 2013
By Roger M. Wilcox - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Two examples stand out in this book that make me question Dewdney's grasp of the subject matter:

1. A car ad asks "How can a car that's only 3/4 of a foot longer have two feet more room? Must be the new math." Dewdney goes into an exhaustive analysis under the assumption that "two feet more room" means two cubic feet, and demonstrates that this woefully underestimates the added space. He then interprets it as two linear feet of extra room, and dismisses this as totally impossible, since adding 3/4 of a foot can't possibly add two extra feet. Dewdney seems not to understand that "room" refers to space in the PASSENGER COMPARTMENT, and that cars have parts OTHER THAN THE PASSENGER COMPARTMENT which can be shrunk -- such as the engine compartment and the trunk. Adding 2 linear feet to the passenger compartment is entirely feasible in a car only 3/4 of a foot longer, if you make the trunk and/or the engine compartment 1-1/4 foot shorter.

2. He mentions concerns about putting milk in transparent containers, due to flourescent lights allegedly damaging the nutrients. He dismisses this possibility out of hand by saying "They probably weren't aware that the little light in the refrigerator turns off when the door is closed." Cute, but it makes me wonder if Dewdney has ever gone to a supermarket in his life. The dairy displays in most supermarkets are closed behind glass doors and CONSTANTLY LIT, usually by fluorescent lights, so that shoppers can see the products on display.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A pale imitation of Paulos 12 Aug 2007
By Christopher J. Pellerito - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I read this book a few years ago. The book is little more than a pale imitation of John Allen Paulos' highly successful "Innumeracy" series. I decided to review this book now because I recently read another book, "Debunking 9/11 Myths," in which Dewdney's name came up. Apparently Dewdney has spent most of his spare time over the last few years peddling ridiculous 9/11 "Reichstag Fire" type conspiracy theories. I strongly recommend that you read John Allen Paulos' "Innumeracy" or anything by Martin Gardner instead of Dewdney, who has degenerated into a crank of the highest magnitude.
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