A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper

Many issues in the news may seem, on the surface, not to involve mathematics at all. While “number stories” complement, deepen, and regularly undermine “people stories,” mathematical naiveté puts everyday readers at a disadvantage. Probability and randomness enhance articles on crime, health risks, or other societal obsessions. Logic and self-reference can help to clarify the hazards of celebrity and spin-doctoring. Through the lenses of business finance, the multiplication principle, and simple arithmetic one may perceive consumer fallacies, electoral tricks, and sports myths. Chaos and nonlinear dynamics can be applied to show how difficult, and frequently worthless, economic and environmental prediction is. Mathematically pertinent notions from philosophy and psychology also provide perspective on a variety of public issues — and serve to highlight the cost we pay for our innumeracy.

Speakers: John Allen Paulos
Festival: 2015

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