March 9, 2014 · 5:00 PM
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.