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Math on Trial Hardcover – 28 Mar 2013

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (28 Mar. 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465032923
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465032921
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 15.7 x 3.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 255,765 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

BBC Focus (UK) "[Math on Trial] has all the marks of a good mystery: tense conflicts, diverse characters and shock conclusions...Numerical errors are not unique to the courtroom: similar issues crop up elsewhere in life, which makes this book's message all the more important. Gripping and insightful, it successfully highlights the dangers of carelessly sprinkling mathematics over real-world problems." Washington Independent Review of Books "Schneps and Colmez's clever use of headline-grabbing case studies and digestible explanations of mathematical problems combine to argue for the careful use of numbers by advocates and lay juries alike. Their warnings remain relevant today as courtrooms face greater use of DNA evidence and other sophisticated forensic technologies." MAA Reviews "The authors shine, and the dramatic presentation [of the court cases] will grip many readers... [Math on Trial] stimulates both thought and interest...Engaging reading." Publishers Weekly "An entertaining tour of courtroom calculations gone wrong... The cases they describe are independently interesting, and the mathematical overlay makes them doubly so... As the problems are unraveled and the correct analyses explained, readers will enjoy a satisfying sense of discovery. Schneps and Colmez write with lucidity and an infectious enthusiasm, making this an engaging and unique blend of true crime and mathematics." Kirkus Reviews "Fill[ed] with wonderful accounts of frauds and forgeries involving the likes of Charles Ponzi, Hetty Green and Alfred Dreyfus...the authors' analysis of the recent Amanda Knox case [is] particularly chilling... [Math on Trial is] intrinsically fascinating in its depiction of the frailty of human judgments." Steven Strogatz, Professor of Mathematics, Cornell University, and author of The Joy of x "Taut and gripping, Math on Trial just might establish a new genre, in which true crime story meets the best of popular science. Utterly absorbing from start to finish." Michael Kaplan and Ellen Kaplan, authors of Chances Are...: Adventures in Probability and Bozo Sapiens: Why to Err Is Human "The originator of sociology, Auguste Comte, said that applying probability to moral questions was the scandal of mathematics. Math On Trial charts the ambivalent--occasionally disastrous--role that math has played in several classic and some recent legal cases. It vividly shows how the desire for 'scientific' certainty can lead even well-meaning courts to commit grave injustice. There ought to be a copy in every jury room."

About the Author

Leila Schneps studied mathematics at Harvard University and now holds a research position at the University of Paris, France. She has taught mathematics for nearly 30 years. Schneps's daughter, Coralie Colmez, graduated with a First from Cambridge University in 2009, and now lives in London where she teaches and writes about mathematics. They both belong to the Bayes in Law Research Consortium, an international team devoted to improving the use of probability and statistics in criminal trials.

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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Biba on 1 April 2013
Format: Hardcover
Math On Trial is a study of several criminal cases where flaws in mathematical and statistical calculations and their analysis led to incorrect verdicts of guilt or innocence. I was surprised how much I enjoyed this book!

Taking a series of riveting cases, including murders, rapes and sex discrimination, Schneps and Colmez both chart the history of the use of math in court, and clearly reveal common fallacies in its use. And it is un-put-down-able stuff.

Never have I been this enlivened by mathematics! I found myself tearing through the book, finishing within a few hours, and was particularly struck by several landmark cases that I had glimpsed in the news but not paid much attention to before.

An accusation of murder by Munchausens Syndrome by Proxy leveled against Sally Clark, whose first two infant children died seemingly of SIDS (cot death), is quite irrefutably repudiated by the authors, and the chapter, like all those in the book, is presented in a style that paints a clear picture of the context of the case, so as a reader I felt I had enough knowledge of the entire situation to be able to draw my own conclusions about the verdict.

The book, however, is not unbiased, and does not pretend to be so, highlighting instead bias in the original cases and statistics. The point of view of Math on Trial then, could be said to be biased towards unbias! With this in mind, one of the strengths of the book is how gripping and emotional it is, for a work of non-fiction.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Luke JR O'Sullivan on 27 Mar. 2013
Format: Hardcover
I approached this book not really knowing what to expect.I'm not a mathematician and so was worried it would be a little bit over my head. However I was very pleasantly surprised when I found that it explained the theories in a user friendly way that really brought the maths to life, and gave me some law knowledge too.
To be able to take such complex topics and distil them in such an interesting way is a real skill. It reminds me of Alain De Botton's work.
I'm looking forward to seeing what these guys come up with next..
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By D. Allen on 16 April 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I think this is one of the best books I have read in decades. Not only is the math(s) absolutely riveting, but the stories themselves combine excitement with fantastic detail. Other commentators have stated how the book is impossible to put down - I totally agree - better than many a crime thriller. I spent an entire Sunday reading the first 9 chapters and finished the book the next day. I then read about how the authors had researched their material; their dedication seems to know no bounds. Just as an example, I had a rough idea of the story of the trial of Alfred Dreyfus but had no idea of all the twists and turns until I read this book. Yet this was researched purely for the joy of knowing the whole story - just to recount the mathematical aspects would have required a much less through job. This writing duo are wonderful and I eagerly await their promised next book!
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Gail on 16 May 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I loved this book! It was interesting to learn how maths can play an important part in our courts, provided it is used correctly. This book includes several real-life examples of when it hasn't been applied correctly, and for some people it has resulted in them being found guilty for appalling crimes when in fact they were completely innocent. Don't be put off if you are a non-mathematician (like me!), it's written in plain English and flows incredibly well.

Definitely one I'd recommend!!
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Very interesting read. Keeps the brain active all the way through.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Korhomme on 29 Jun. 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I'm not a mathematician, but I enjoy reading about maths, and trying to understand how results are obtained, even if the computation is beyond me.

The ten chapters here describe ten ways in which maths has been used and misused in criminal trials. I remember the case of Sally Clark well, and I remember being disturbed when reading the newspaper reports of her trial; but I didn't know exactly why I should be so disturbed. This case is the first chapter; it shows how it is quite possible to provide totally deceptive statistics when the concepts are wrongly applied. It's about a mother and two of her children who died; did she murder them, or were they both victims of 'cot death' or SIDS? (At which point I must point out that one of my kids died of cot death, so I may not be totally impartial. Anyhow, maths were used to show that the probability of two cot deaths was next to impossible, therefore it must be murder. The mathematical process was flawed, but her eventual aquittal was due to the finding of significant bacterial infection in the second child, and not because the court accepted that the maths was wrong. Indeed, the problem is simply stated; the figure of 1:8000 or so as the probability of a single cot death was squared to for the probability of a second. The experts and the court clearly could not see that a statistical probability is not a cause, it's just a description. And if the cause of cot death is unknown, this doesn't mean that there is no cause; from which it could be argued that multiple cot deaths in one family could be more likely than not, as whatever genetic and environmental factors are involved in the first could equally be involved in the second. And that's before entering into why the statistics were flawed.
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