How Numbers Get Twisted
- Length: 2:29 minutes (2.27 MB)
- Format: MP3 Mono 44kHz 128Kbps (CBR)
October 4, 2010
Interview with Charles Seife, author of the book Proofiness: The Dark Arts of Mathematical Deception
Charles Seife, author of the book Proofiness, says for example…
You look at almost any beauty product, Crest White Strips or Vaseline and you’ll see some sort of numerical claim. Crest White Strips make your teeth twice as bright. Or Vaseline delivers 70% more moisture than the other leading brands - these are numbers, which are functionally made up, they have no meaning. After all how do you measure how much moisture something delivers?
Of course politicians use “proofiness” and they’ve been making up numbers to support their arguments for a long time. The perfect example is from back in the 1950’s.
Joseph McCarthy pulled out a list of people and he said, “I’ve got 205 communists on this list in the state department”. He didn’t, but just the very fact that he gave it a number made the administration worried. “What does he have - if he’s making such a specific claim it must be real?”
We believe numbers – there’s something about a statistic (even a false one) that sounds believable. But perhaps we need to be more skeptical.
One a shampoo says it increases hair silkiness by 5 times. How in the world could anyone measure hair silkiness, much less show that a shampoo has showed increased silkiness by a factor of 5.”