Non-Fiction Book Club to Discuss "Proofiness" by Charles Seife – Thursday, September 5th @ 6:30pm
After a summer of big books—Common Ground ( 688 pages) & Truman (1,120 pages)—the Pollard’s Non-Fiction book group will ease into fall with, Proofiness: The Dark Arts of Mathematical Deception by Charles Seife, a book that weighs in at a modest under 295 pages. These numbers of course include the front and end matter of the respective books (the last chapter of Truman actually ends of page 992 leaving a whopping 128 pages of acknowledgements, source notes, bibliography, and index—enough material for a decent sized book in and of itself) which brings the actual number of pages read (’cause who reads all the notes and stuff?) to a far lesser number. So you can be impressed at all we’ve read, but not quite as impressed as you might have been at first glance. Numbers can be misleading—which is exactly next month’s monograph’s message.
From the book jacket:
“Numbers have a peculiar power over us. We almost automatically believe a quantitative statement, no matter how crazy it might seem. … Numbers disarm skeptics, befuddle journalists, and hoodwink the public like no other kind of propaganda can. In skillful hands, phony data, bogus statistics, and bad mathematics can be used to bludgeon enemies, to destroy critics, and to squelch debate. More and more, our society is being shaped by masters of proofiness: the art of using bogus mathematical arguments to prove something that you know in your heart is true—even when it’s not.
Proofiness is behind bizarre stories such as a mathematical formula for the perfect butt, or an argument about whether edible underwear will keep our infants healthy, but the silliness of bad mathematics has a dark side. Bogus mathematical arguments are being used—by both the left and the right—to undermine our system of justice, to implement shortsighted policies that threaten our security, to dismantle our social institutions, and to undermine our voting system.
By doing the real math, Charles Seife elegantly and good-humoredly skewers our growing obsession with metrics, while exposing those who misuse them. More than this, though, he makes it ominously clear how bad math affects all of our lives in very real and serious ways: bad math is being used to bring down government officials and to elect new ones in their place, to convict innocent people or to acquit guilty ones, and to fix the outcomes of future elections. In short, bad math is undermining our democracy. ”
About the Author:
Charles Seife is the author of four previous books, including Sun in a Bottle and Zero, which won the PEN / Martha Albrand Award for first nonfiction book, and was named a New York Times Notable Book. His work has appeared in such publications as Science, the New York Times, New Scientist, Scientific American, the Economist and Wired. He lives in New York City and is a professor of journalism at New York University.