Paul H. Edelman

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Notices of the American Mathematical Society

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mathematical arguments in criminal trials, judicial error


Evidence | Law | Statistics and Probability


In Math on Trial, Leila Schneps and Coralie Col­ mez write about the abuse of mathematical argu­ ments in criminal trials and how these flawed arguments "have sent innocent people to prison" (p. ix). Indeed, people "saw their lives ripped apart by simple mathematical errors." The purpose of focusing on these errors, despite mathematics' "relatively rare use in trials" (p. x), is "that many of the common mathematical fallacies that pervade the public sphere are perfectly represented by these trials. Thus they serve as ideal illustrations of these errors and of the drastic consequences that faulty reasoning has on real lives" (p. x). The authors' strategy is to identify common mathematical errors and then illustrate how those errors arose in trials. They seek to accomplish two goals: first, to impress upon the general public the importance of being able to "distinguish whether the numbers brandished in our faces are legitimately providing information or being misused for dangerous ends"; second, "to identify the most important errors that have actually occurred" so that such mistakes can be eliminated in the future.



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