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 libertyand your lifecan 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 usedand disastrously misusedas 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 evidencewhich 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.
BBC Focus (UK)
[Math on Trial] has all the marks of a good mystery: tense conflicts, diverse characters and shock conclusions
.Numerical errors are not unique to the courtroom: similar issues crop up elsewhere in life, which makes this books message all the more important. Gripping and insightful, it successfully highlights the dangers of carelessly sprinkling mathematics over real-world problems.”
Washington Independent Review of Books
Schneps and Colmezs clever use of headline-grabbing case studies and digestible explanations of mathematical problems combine to argue for the careful use of numbers by advocates and lay juries alike. Their warnings remain relevant today as courtrooms face greater use of DNA evidence and other sophisticated forensic technologies.”
The authors shine, and the dramatic presentation [of the court cases] will grip many readers
. [Math on Trial] stimulates both thought and interest
An entertaining tour of courtroom calculations gone wrong
. The cases they describe are independently interesting, and the mathematical overlay makes them doubly so
. 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.”
Fill[ed] with wonderful accounts of frauds and forgeries involving the likes of Charles Ponzi, Hetty Green and Alfred Dreyfus
.the authors analysis of the recent Amanda Knox case [is] particularly chilling
. [Math on Trial is] intrinsically fascinating in its depiction of the frailty of human judgments.”
Steven Strogatz, Professor of Mathematics, Cornell University, and author of The Joy of x
Taut and gripping, Math on Trial just might establish a new genre, in which true crime story meets the best of popular science. Utterly absorbing from start to finish.”
Michael Kaplan and Ellen Kaplan, authors of Chances Are
: Adventures in Probability and Bozo Sapiens: Why to Err Is Human
The originator of sociology, Auguste Comte, said that applying probability to moral questions was the scandal of mathematics. Math On Trial charts the ambivalentoccasionally disastrousrole that math has played in several classic and some recent legal cases. It vividly shows how the desire for scientific certainty can lead even well-meaning courts to commit grave injustice. There ought to be a copy in every jury room.”
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 usedand disastrously misusedas 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
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.