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century, AIDS is a scourge equivalent to that of polio in the first 60 years. Let us learn from polio: Difficult people may be right, orthodoxy may be wrong, and great names may be wrong. Although it is used in only a few countries, SaIk lived to see his vaccine available in a purified form which eliminated the danger that some virions might have escaped inactivation. Sabin knew that the Americas were certified free of paralysis caused by wild poliovirus. Both SaIk and Sabin were intensely interested in the campaigns to eradicate polio in the Indian subcontinent and in Africa. This is an arresting story well told, and the stories of individual polio sufferers show other sides of pain, despair, and triumph. Science, medicine, and humanity are combined to form an integrated whole. I enjoyed this book very much, and I think that FDR, Sister Kenny, SaIk, and Sabin would have enjoyed it too. H. V. Wyatt Honorary Research Fellow Public Health Medicine University ofLeeds Correspondence to: 1 Hollyshaw Terrace Leeds LS 15 7BG England A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper. John Allen Paulos. NewYork: Basic Books, 1995. Pp. 212. $18.00. This is a superb book for everyman (everywoman, too), including those with a fear of mathematics. The format is modeled after a newspaper. Each essay (or perhaps more appropriately column) begins with a headline—ranging from current international news to sports and obituaries—a traditional who, what, where, when, why, and how development of the story, and a very accessible consideration of relevant mathematics applicable to the story. John Allen Paulos is a Professor of Mathematics at Temple University who in the column headlined "More Dismal Math Scores for U.S. Students" provides three classes of reasons for everyone to study some mathematics. The first is practical and concerns job skills, technology, and science. The third concerns the beauty, transcendence, and the like of mathematics that is the Elysian Fields of the mathematician . The second, and the focus of this book, "concerns the understandings that are essential to an informed and effective citizenry." Paulos argues quite convincingly that the social cost of mathematical naivete is high and that "gullible citizens are a demagogue's dream." Paulos sets out to demonstrate that the required mathematical principles are few and are accessible even to those who detested mathematics in school. "Mathematics ," he writes, "is not primarily a matter of plugging numbers into formulas and performing rote computations. It is a way of thinking and questioning that may be unfamiliar to many of us, but is available to almost all of us." As an analogy, believing that mathematics is computation is equivalent to believing that writing essays is the same as typing. 466 Book Reviews Paulos admits to an unnatural attachment to newspapers that began in his childhood in Chicago and Milwaukee, but he believes that newspapers (in one form or another) will continue to be our primary means of considered public discourse, and, as such, "they should enhance our role as citizens and not reduce it to that ofmere consumers and voyeurs (although there's notiiing wrong with a little buying and peeking)." And so, he has developed these "number stories" that may complement or undermine the more evident "people stories." "Always be smart; seldom be certain" are the messages of this book. In the Conclusion , the reader discovers that he or she can understand Paulos' suggestion that die set of standard questions journalists ask and readers want answered should be enlarged: Besides Who, What, Where, When, Why and How, it should include How many? How likely? What fraction? How does the quantity compare with other quantities? What is its rate of growth, and how does that compare? What about the self-referential aspects in the story? Is there an appropriate degree of complexity in it? Are we looking at the right categories and relations? How much ofthe story is independent in its reporting? Are we especially vulnerable to the availability error or to anchoring effects? [Note, this is discussed below] . If statistics are presented, howwere they obtained? How confident can we be of them? Were they derived from a random sample or from a collection of anecdotes? Does the correlation...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-8795
Print ISSN
0031-5982
Pages
pp. 466-469
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-07
Open Access
No
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