The title of a 1995 book by John Allen Paulos
, a followup to his book about numerical illiteracy, which was called "Innumeracy
". The book consists of a number of short essays, divided into sections. In the essays, Paulos examines how innumeracy
affects media coverage of politics
, social issues, the environment
and other issues. Paulos debunks and discusses numerical issues the media handles irresponsibly.
A typical essay is "Science, Medicine, and the Environment", in which he explains the problem with conditional probability
and false positives
in tests. Assume 100000 people are tested for disease D. On average, 0.1% of the population has this disease (i.e. 100 people), and 99% of the time the test will catch this (99 of those 100 will test positive for D). Of the 99900 healthy people, say around 1% test positive for D (erroneously, this is the false positive rate). That's about 999 people. That gives 1,098 people testing positive for D. The conditional probability that you have D, given that you test positive, is only around 9%!!! This startling calculation has obvious implications for seemingly straightforward public policy issues such as mandatory AIDS tests or drug tests.
While it is refreshing to read an interesting debunking of, say, the Laffer Curve
, there is also a feeling that you are reading a series of rants from a grumpy mathematician who knows what's best for everyone, and is exasperated that the proles