Book Review: The Math of Life and Death: by Kit Yates

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The Math of Life and Death: 7 Mathematical Principles That Shape Our Lives by Kit Yates

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Author Kit Yates takes us through a journey of the mind to look at the uses and misuses of mathematics in today’s world. The same math that lets your computer run rings around the old library card catalogue for research on some topics, can just as easily take you down a rabbit’s hole of false misleading data and information and manipulate how you think or act without your knowing that you are acting on false assumptions or twisted information.
The author points out quite bluntly that one of the worst things we can do with mathematics is to blindly trust that it will give us the best answer or that the person presenting the mathematics is using their math in a proper manner. He points to the use of math in criminal law which can as easily convict due to misconstrued analysis as it can acquit a seemingly irrefutably guilty party. The illusion of certainty that comes across when we are presented with a string of numbers can just as easily flumox our minds as it can enlighten them. This is especially true when we don’t want to appear to be ignorant in a public arena.
I as especially enlightened by the chapter dealing with specificity in medical testing and our faith that the tests always show the correct results, when in fact there is ample evidence that at times even such things as fingerprints and DNA testing that are relied upon in courts and in the medical profession, are not always infallable. Additionally, I also enjoyed the descriptions of “the prosecutor’s fallacy” in which the mear way in thich the same statistical numbers are presented by a prosecutor can lead to very different conclusions by the jury as to whether an accused is judged to be guilty of innocent.
Thankfully the author used diseases other than COVID-19 to discuss how epidemiologists have used mathematics to guide their recommendations for public health decisions for outbreaks of diseases like like measles, polio, and HIV. He also frames his analysis of the statistics of the dangers of crimes in a manner that enlightens us once more to the facts that we are more likely to suffer criminal actions from those whom we know, those who are of our own racial makeup, rather than what the pundits and poiticians may say about who are the most dangerous groups of people to watch out for.
An excellent book. Read it slowly and go back to things you aren’t sure of and read them again. The 25 pages of references at the end of the book is well worth checking out if you desire further reading or want to look at any original sources. Enjoy!



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