Short Summaries of Articles about Mathematics
in the Popular Press
"Sorry, You've Got The Wrong Number," an interview with Joel Best, NewYork Times, 26 May 2001.
"Telling the Truth About Damned Lies and Statistics," by Joel Best, TheChronicle of Higher Education, 4 May 2001.
Joel Best, author of Damned Lies and Statistics: Untangling Numbers Fromthe Media, Politicians and Activists (University of California Press),is interviewed by Patricia Cohen, editor of the Arts & Ideas section of theNew York Times. Best answers such questions as "Do you have a favorite badstatistic?", "What's the biggest trap people fall into when hearing anumber?", "With the census out, are we in for a flood of misleadingpronouncements?", and "What's the worst study you've heard about lately?",among others. Obviously, the title of his book provides a clue to hisresponses.
The essay in The Chronicle by Best is excerpted from his book. Hehighlights the following quoted statistic as his nominee for the dubiousdistinction as "the worst---that is, the most inaccurate---social statisticever: Every year since 1950, the number of American children gunned down hasdoubled." He examines what makes the statistic so bad, "as hilariously, wildlywrong as a social statistic can be." The essay touches on sources, grammar,context, interpretations and manipulations of statistics, and notes thatstatistics are "too widespread and too useful to be discounted" but requirecritical thinking to evaluate what others tell us.
--- Annette Emerson