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Math on Trial: How Numbers Get Used and Abused in the Courtroomby Leila Schneps
Synopses & Reviews
In the wrong hands, math can be deadly. Even the simplest numbers can become powerful forces when manipulated by politicians or the media, but in the case of the law, your liberty—and your life—can depend on the right calculation.
In Math on Trial, mathematicians Leila Schneps and Coralie Colmez describe ten trials spanning from the nineteenth century to today, in which mathematical arguments were used—and disastrously misused—as evidence. They tell the stories of Sally Clark, who was accused of murdering her children by a doctor with a faulty sense of calculation; of nineteenth-century tycoon Hetty Green, whose dispute over her aunts will became a signal case in the forensic use of mathematics; and of the case of Amanda Knox, in which a judges misunderstanding of probability led him to discount critical evidence—which might have kept her in jail. Offering a fresh angle on cases from the nineteenth-century Dreyfus affair to the murder trial of Dutch nurse Lucia de Berk, Schneps and Colmez show how the improper application of mathematical concepts can mean the difference between walking free and life in prison.
A colorful narrative of mathematical abuse, Math on Trial blends courtroom drama, history, and math to show that legal expertise isnt always enough to prove a person innocent.
"A mother-daughter team of mathematicians turn the potentially dry topic of statistics and probability theory into an entertaining tour of courtroom calculations gone wrong. Schneps and Colmez structure their investigation around high-profile trials in which a mathematical premise was misused, therefore resulting in a possible miscarriage of justice. The cases they describe are independently interesting, and the mathematical overlay makes them doubly so. Each of the 10 chapters begins with a description of the relevant misapplied mathematical premise, then dives into the details of the cases themselves. Defendants past and present people the pages, including Alfred Dreyfus, the scapegoat for an infamous late-19th-century French spy scandal; Hetty Green, 'the witch of Wall Street;' Charles Ponzi, whose eponymous scheme was his and — nearly 90 years later — Bernie Madoff's downfall; and Amanda Knox, the supposed culprit of an internationally notorious 2009 murder in Italy. The mathematics tackled are not trivial, but as the problems are unraveled and the correct analyses explained, readers will enjoy a satisfying sense of discovery. Schneps and Colmez write with lucidity and an infectious enthusiasm, making this an engaging and unique blend of true crime and mathematics. 32 b&w images." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
In the wrong hands, math can be deadly. In Math on Trial, mathematicians Leila Schneps and Coralie Colmez tell the story of ten trials in which mathematical arguments were used—and disastrously misused—as evidence. Using a wide range of examples, from the Dreyfus Affair to the Amanda Knox murder trial, they show how the improper application of mathematical concepts can mean the difference between walking free and life in prison. A colorful narrative of mathematical abuse featuring such characters as Charles Ponzi, Alfred Dreyfus, and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Math on Trial shows that legal expertise isnt always enough to prove a person innocent.
About the Author
Leila Schneps studied mathematics at Harvard University and now holds a research position at the University of Paris, France. She has taught mathematics for nearly 30 years. Schnepss daughter, Coralie Colmez, graduated with a First from Cambridge University in 2009, and now lives in London where she teaches and writes about mathematics. They both belong to the Bayes in Law Research Consortium, an international team devoted to improving the use of probability and statistics in criminal trials.
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