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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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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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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