Proofiness: How You're Being Fooled by the Numbers - Charles Seife (2010)

  • March 9, 2014 · 5:00 PM

From Booklist

Starred Review Following in the footsteps of John Allen Paulos (Innumeracy, 1989) and Michael Shermer (Why People Believe Weird Things, 1997), Seife conducts a thorough investigation into why so many of us find it so easy to believe things that are patently ridiculous. Why, for example, does anyone take seriously the idea that some vaccines can cause autism, or that athletes who wear red have a competitive advantage? It’s all comes down to numbers, the author argues, and the ways they can be used to make people believe things that are not true. He introduces us to the concepts of Potemkin numbers (deliberately deceptive statistics), “disestimation” (turning a number into a falsehood by taking it too literally), fruit-packing (a variety of deceptive techniques including cherry-picking data and comparing apples to oranges), and “randumbness” (finding causality in random events). He explores the many ways we misunderstand simple mathematical terms—confusing average, for example, with typical—and our natural tendency to treat numbers as truth and to see patterns where none exist. Despite its serious and frequently complex subject, the book is written in a light, often humorous tone (the title is a riff on Stephen Colbert’s “truthiness,” although proofiness has been in circulation for a while, with a variety of meanings). A delightful and remarkably revealing book that should be required reading for… well, for everyone. --David Pitt


"A delightful and remarkably revealing book that should be required reading for… well, for everyone."
-Booklist (Starred review)

About the Author

Charles Seife is the author of several books, including Sun in a Bottle and Zero. 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.

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  • Sparky

    Hi Jeffrey. My pseudonym is Sparky, but my real name is Wayne.

    1 · March 9

    • Jeffrey C. J.

      Thanks Wayne! I'm marking Nick, Eric and Brent as my guests for the record as they aren't getting these messages anyway.

      March 10

  • Bert H.

    Lively, interesting discussion

    1 · March 9

  • Jeffrey C. J.

    Thanks everyone for coming. I do have one request for Brent, Eric, Nick and Wayne though. If you signed in under a pseudonym could you please let me know which one? I have everyone else marked off and told you sincerely it was good to see you, but I'd be remiss if I didn't extend the same benefit to you 4, especially if the alternative is to unjustly mark you 4 as no shows. :(

    March 9

  • Jeffrey C. J.

    Courtesy of our sister group, the BBoBB:

    For those who haven't finished "Proofiness", or couldn't obtain it:

    Charles Seife's hour-long Authors @ Google event goes through many of thethemes and examples in the book:­

    There's also video of Seife's presentation at The Strand bookstore inNYC; it looks near-identical to the Google doc and the video qualityis much poorer.­

    This USA Today story focuses on one thread, voting confusion:­


    March 8

    • Jeffrey C. J.


      This USA Today story focused on one thread from the book, voting confusion:


      These voting issues came up in Virginia recently, with the state race for attorney general. As this Post said, 5 days after the election: "As of Sunday night, Obenshain led by 17 votes out of more than 2.2 million cast." As of today, the margin grew a bit, to 165, but clearly this race was a tie, and the decision should be left up to "a majority vote of the total membership of the Virginia General Assembly."




      March 8

  • A former member
    A former member

    When I became an empty-nester. I had two goals: 1) get out and meet other people who loved books, and 2) finish my book. In the last couple of months, the later goal has taken over my life. Once the book hullabaloo calms down, I'll be back to reading and attending book clubs.

    In the meantime, if any of you are interested, my book launch it is on Sunday, March 9th. More information is available at (on the right top hand side of the first page).

    I look forward to seeing you soon.


    1 · March 2

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