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Proofiness: The Dark Arts of Mathematical Deception

By Charles Seife

Proofiness: The Dark Arts of Mathematical Deception

You can view this book's Amazon detail page here.


Started reading:
25th March 2011
Finished reading:
2nd May 2011


Rating: Unrated

Proofiness is a particularly enlightening book and a must read for any discerning citizen in our democracy. As author Charles Seife explains, proofiness is the art of using bogus mathematical arguments. This book is a virtual catalog of bogus argument techniques. All having the common thread of using numbers of some sort for support.
Seife takes as his basic premise that the average person today is easily taken in by proofiness because of the old adage; ” Numbers don’t lie.” After reading this book you will become a convinced skeptic numerical evidence and more easily spot proofiness.
Seife’s catalog of proofiness includes:

Potemkin numbers – aka fabricated statistics.
Disestimation – intentionally understating or ignoring uncertainties of data
Fruit packing – presentation of valid numbers in a way to cause proofiness including apple polishing, cherry picking and apples-to-oranges comparisons.
Casuistry – making a misleading argument through seeming sound principles, for example, mixing correlation with causality.
Randumbness – insisting there is order where there is only chaos.

Taken as a whole this catalog of disinformation techniques provides quite an array tools for nearly any organization or personnel with an ax to grind to “prove” their case.
Because voting and how we elect or representatives is at the heart of a democracy, Seife spends a significant part of the book addressing proofiness in voting. Two elections, Bush – Gore presidential election and Franken – Coleman senate election, provide a litany of proofiness. In the context of the Franken – Coleman contest Seife revealingly illustrates that depending on how you count votes in a “fair” election any of the candidates (including the third candidate, Dean Barkley) could have won!! Seife goes on to briefly introduce what constitutes a “fair” election and the mathematical truism that all elections are flawed with more than 2 candidates. This known as Arrow’s Theorem and attributed to Nobel economist, Dr. Kenneth Arrow.
In summary, Proofiness is a very interesting and revealing discussion on the state of disinformation today.