Required reading for aspiring lawyers, but also intrinsically fascinating in its depiction of the frailty of human judgments.

# MATH ON TRIAL

### HOW NUMBERS GET USED AND ABUSED IN THE COURTROOM

Chronicles of miscarriages of justice due to the misuse of statistics, combined with blow-by-blow accounts of criminal trials.

Schneps and Colmez are a mother-daughter pair sophisticated in the ways of probability. Schneps studied math at Harvard, and her daughter has a math First from Cambridge; both are members of an international team dedicated to improving the use of statistics in the courtroom. Many of their accounts will make readers weep with rage—e.g., a mother imprisoned for murder in the deaths of her two infant children, largely based on the false assumption that the deaths were independent events, so the likelihood that they happened by chance was vanishingly small; an interracial couple convicted of robbery based on multiplying a bunch of inaccurate probabilities of nonindependent descriptors (black man with beard: 1 out of 10; man with mustache: 1 out of 4, etc.) to conclude that only the defendants fit the bill. The testimony of “experts” in all these cases inevitably overwhelmed the jury and brought the guilty verdicts. Fortunately, the cases were overturned on appeal when true experts explained errors and/or presented new evidence. The authors move on to more subtle applications of probability theory and fill out the volume with wonderful accounts of frauds and forgeries involving the likes of Charles Ponzi, Hetty Green and Alfred Dreyfus. Interestingly, the authors cite Harvard’s Laurence Tribe, whose decades-old essay decrying the use of math in the courtroom led to a decline. Now, because of DNA testing, probability has made a comeback. How it was applied—and eventually ignored—makes the authors’ analysis of the recent Amanda Knox case particularly chilling.

Required reading for aspiring lawyers, but also intrinsically fascinating in its depiction of the frailty of human judgments.

Pub Date: March 12, 2013

ISBN: 978-0465032921

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: Jan. 6, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2013

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A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

# AN INDIGENOUS PEOPLES' HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

Custer died for your sins. And so, this book would seem to suggest, did every other native victim of colonialism.

Inducing guilt in non-native readers would seem to be the guiding idea behind Dunbar-Ortiz’s (Emerita, Ethnic Studies/California State Univ., Hayward; Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War, 2005, etc.) survey, which is hardly a new strategy. Indeed, the author says little that hasn’t been said before, but she packs a trove of ideological assumptions into nearly every page. For one thing, while “Indian” isn’t bad, since “[i]ndigenous individuals and peoples in North America on the whole do not consider ‘Indian’ a slur,” “American” is due to the fact that it’s “blatantly imperialistic.” Just so, indigenous peoples were overwhelmed by a “colonialist settler-state” (the very language broadly applied to Israelis vis-à-vis the Palestinians today) and then “displaced to fragmented reservations and economically decimated”—after, that is, having been forced to live in “concentration camps.” Were he around today, Vine Deloria Jr., the always-indignant champion of bias-puncturing in defense of native history, would disavow such tidily packaged, ready-made, reflexive language. As it is, the readers who are likely to come to this book—undergraduates, mostly, in survey courses—probably won’t question Dunbar-Ortiz’s inaccurate assertion that the military phrase “in country” derives from the military phrase “Indian country” or her insistence that all Spanish people in the New World were “gold-obsessed.” Furthermore, most readers won’t likely know that some Ancestral Pueblo (for whom Dunbar-Ortiz uses the long-abandoned term “Anasazi”) sites show evidence of cannibalism and torture, which in turn points to the inconvenient fact that North America wasn’t entirely an Eden before the arrival of Europe.

A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8070-0040-3

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Beacon Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

# GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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