cover image Math on Trial: How Numbers Get Used and Abused in the Courtroom

Math on Trial: How Numbers Get Used and Abused in the Courtroom

Leila Schneps and Coralie Colmez. Basic, $26 (272p) ISBN 978-0-465-03292-1

A mother-daughter team of mathematicians turn the potentially dry topic of statistics and probability theory into an entertaining tour of courtroom calculations gone wrong. Schneps and Colmez structure their investigation around high-profile trials in which a mathematical premise was misused, therefore resulting in a possible miscarriage of justice. The cases they describe are independently interesting, and the mathematical overlay makes them doubly so. Each of the 10 chapters begins with a description of the relevant misapplied mathematical premise, then dives into the details of the cases themselves. Defendants past and present people the pages, including Alfred Dreyfus, the scapegoat for an infamous late-19th-century French spy scandal; Hetty Green, “the witch of Wall Street;” Charles Ponzi, whose eponymous scheme was his and—nearly 90 years later—Bernie Madoff’s downfall; and Amanda Knox, the supposed culprit of an internationally notorious 2009 murder in Italy. The mathematics tackled are not trivial, but as the problems are unraveled and the correct analyses explained, readers will enjoy a satisfying sense of discovery. Schneps and Colmez write with lucidity and an infectious enthusiasm, making this an engaging and unique blend of true crime and mathematics. 32 b&w images. (Mar.)