Random Comments From Rensselaer Students Regarding Vollmer Fries Lecture by John Allen Paulos

I am writing to you regarding the lecture by Professor Paulos. One of the things that was most interesting to me was to see how the human mind's tendency to discern patterns which must have provided an evolutionary advantage at some point can in fact prove to be a disadvantage in certain situations if it is not tempered by a more rigorous mathematical understanding of what statistics are really saying about the correlation of events. I found Professor Paulos to be a very effective speaker in that he based in his talk around practical examples from the newspaper (often in a humorous way) rather than focusing on psychological theories of why these misunderstandings arise, which although interesting would not really have been as appropriate for a short, one-time, general interest lecture.

I am just e-mailing you to let you know that I attended the latest Vollmer Fries lecture on Innumeracy. Again, I was hesitant to attend, but found the lecture quite interesting. I thought the speaker's (author's) style was very effective (to basically read newspaper articles and disprove their numerical bases). It brought the topic readily into everyone's life--there is no getting away from the scores of quoted facts and figures from polls and studies.

The lecture opened up many of our eyes to the fact that numbers can be made to sound important when they mean nothing in reality. I am glad that I now have the ability to distinguish a realistic fact from something genereated to scare the public.

I wanted to write you a note to tell you that I went to the lecture monday afternoon. I really enjoyed it. I dod have to leave early for a meeting with professor carlson. He also attended the lecture and durring our meeting we discussed the statistics used in the OJ case. It was very interesting. Thanks .

One thing was for sure this lecture was not boring. I would never have connected the possibility that the assasinations of the presidents could be related in some way shape or form.

I attended Monday's guest lecture. I've been very impressed with the guests and topics chosen for this lecture series, because our classes never take a step back from the workload to examine its effect on society, or how we can better understand society through the work that we're doing.

I found it very interesting that people can be so mislead by numbers, which we thought were helpful... and that even though engineers have a good idea as to numerical values that we deal with, I had no idea as to the population of Turkey, or national budget figures. I suppose if I dealt with these topics on a daily basis, I might have a better 'feel' for the figures, but I have plenty of work myself.

Here is my impression after listening to the Vollmer Fries Lecture from Prof. John Allen Paulos. on Innumeracy, Newspapares and Democracy. The lecture by Prof. Paulos mainly concentrates on the innumeracy problem happening in many daily newspapers. He used many interesting examples in probability and randomnness, such as business finanace and stocks, to illustrate the adverse effect of innumeracy on the understanding of many phenomenons. The lecture is interesting because he has used very simple mathematical theory to reveal many problemns which is not easily noticeable but yet very relevant to the daily experience.

I think that probability and statistics are very essential tools in analyzing and understanding the physical world as well as the society. It is because in the world around us, many things are not deterministic and the language describing all those phenomenon is probability. Thus, we should always keep this issue in mind when we receive information from the media.

Here are my reflections on the talk on Innumeracy which was given on Monday, November 13th. Overall, I found the talk to be interesting and entertaining. Basically, the speaker was trying to suggest that we try and understand, or even question the validity of certain statistics that appear in our daily lives. He gave a gamut of examples from his book of the use of statistics (or misuse thereof). He also encouraged us to ascertain the sourcw of the information, the sample size etc. In general, he just advised against getting carried away by mere numbers.

On the whole I found it extremely entertaining. I never thought I would hear jokes from a *mathematician* that I would actually tell to my friends. He brought to my mind a number of questions about our society. I always knew that people, the media especially, could have an amazing impact on things simply by massaging data I my self realized that I have been made to believe certain things that may have no truth to them, from surveys to trends to statistics and everything else.

The topic of significant digits hit home with me because I have seen instances where it can have dramatic effect. One example that came to mind was of kills in the Vietnam war (and this is not exactly the example Mr. Paulos gave.) After one particular battle, the person in charge of counting enemy dead came up with the very round figure of 300, because it obviously was not important enough for him to risk death to get a more accurate count. His superior immediately told him to change his estimate to 312, because no one would believe 300. It is a case where simply adding meaningless numbers to something can make it more credible.

I look forward to reading some of Professor Paulos' books during Winter break.

I attended the lecture on Monday given by Prof. Paulos. I enjoyed the lecture and thought that Prof. Paulos thoughts on "innumeracy" were highly commical and insightful. One of his most memorable comment, in my opinion, was that cellular phones have a profilactic effect on brain cancer.

It was interesting to note a few of the inapproprite things people will interpret as fact before actually examining the accuracy of their statements. The good professor's "walk through the typical newspaper" made light of some entertaining inconsistencies. I particularly liked his analysis of the OJ Simpson case where he explained that while a very small fraction of wife-beaters actually kill their wives, of murdered, battered women 80% were murdered by their respective husbands. It is scary to note that Derschewitz was successful in twisting these numbers to show how inprobably it was in the case.....

Thanks again for bringing interesting speakers to campus.....and have a great day!

On monday i attended the Volmer series lecture by Dr. Paulos. I can honestly say that my expectations where not that great at arrival- looked like another boring lecture on math this and math that, oh ya, and the food was a little late. However much to my surprise, Dr. Paulos gave a interesting if not entertaining report on how the world looks at and perceives numbers and statistics. He proceded to scan an everyday newspaper and give short commentary on various headlines. Basically, his findings were that statistics in news today are often very misleading and used in ways which may give the uneducated reader a very wrong opinion of the case at hand. In conclusion he advised reporters to not only report what, when, where, and who, but how is the incident related and other aspects of statistics that would make the myriad of numbers thrown at the reader if not more meaningful, more truthful.

The lecture was interesting. Numbers can lie (sometimes). Just out of curiosity, is there some sort of unwritten standard concerning the hairstyles of mathemeticians? This one certainly fit the part. It is curious to think about whether or not these people know that they are messing up with these numbers, or if they know what they are doing, and are trying to mislead the public. I know for myself that when doing calculations of % error, it is always a good idea to divide the difference by the larger of the two values in order to minimize my calculated error. One last comment: it becomes frighteningly clear what a nerd I have become when I can sit around and laugh at these math jokes, honestly finding humor in them.

I've attended the second Vollmer Fries lecture, and I think I like this one more than the previous one, perhaps I know a little bit more on math than antique automobiles.. :)

The speaker, Prof Paulos, has done a great job in pointing out the fallacies on the headlines and how we can crack the message by our math and statistical knowledge. His examples are humorous and interesting, and they're within everyone's reach.

I happened to come across Prof Wallace, who is teaching my Info & Decision Systems class, when I left the lecture hall. And on the way we walked to class we talked about the lecture. In fact, a substantial amount of ideas behind the material presented was covered in our class such as anchoring, effects on sample size and problem phasing in a survey, Bayes Thm (I really love the OJ example..), and other aspects of cognitive science and decision making process by individuals.

Just a note about the second lecture we had on Monday. Dr Paulos' comments were really appreciated. The world can not afford to be numerically illiterate. Like in Ephesians 4:14-"That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive."

One thing that really caught my intention was about the important of the having a good auditors and reporters for the posting articles so that the readers will get the actuall message behind the article/headline.

I attended the Vollmer Fries lecture yesterday. I didn't know what to expect - but I was pleasantly surprised. The lecturer (I forget his name!) kept things interesting, and didn't get bogged down in any complicated math. One of the most interesting parts of the lecture was his discussion of the "anchoring" effect. The point he kept raising was that any survey can be manipulated by someone with "an axe to grind". Another topic that stood out was his statistics on spousal abuse. "Only 1 in 1,000 batterers go on to kill their spouses, but in 80% of such murders, the killer is the batterer. O.J. Simpson's lawyers "massaged" the first statistic, and ignored the second. One final interesting fact - the lecturer was at the University of Wisconsin during the student protests. I have seen some of these in documentaries about the Vietnam War. The war in general is representative of blind faith in statistics - Robert McNamara and most of LBJ's cabinet were providing numbers pointing to US victory. This didn't exactly happen. Overall, it was a good lecture - it was short, interesting, with a good speaker.

... i enjoyed it too, the guy was pretty funny.

The second Vollmer Fries lecture was more entertaining than the first. It was on a topic that I have more of an interest in. Could you send the name of the books he has written? "A Mathmetian reads the Newpaper" sounds promising after hearing some of the sections. Thank you.

Professor Paulos Lecture Inummeracy, Newspapers and Democracy was an interesting commentary on how statistics are used and misused by everyday people. I can only think that a mathematician hearing statistics and calculations in the news must feel the same as us engineers when we here explanations of how a computer works or the like from a salesperson, or the like. At first I really wasn't too interested, but after hearing a what Professor Paulos had to say, and thinking about it, it is kind of discouraging, at least to me, because a lot of what he said and pointed out were very real situations, such as the conclusion of the party guests that two 50% chances = 100% chance of rain. There was probably no more math used in that lecture than what someone with and 8th or 9th grade education in algebra should be able to do, however I have never really thought much about the statistics I hear in the news. Well we have all heard the saying "Figures don't lie, but liars figure" This was another commentary on how true that is. His examples of statistics given on the OJ case were especially good examples of how we can make numbers for or against anything. Well on the overall, I guess I left the lecture with some interesting thoughts.

Just a short note to let you know what I thought about the special lecture held today in the DCC. I found the speaker to be a good blend between seriousness and humor. His humor certainly added a bit of "spice" to the talk. I felt that he gave many good examples of how statistics can be misinterpreted in the newspapers and media, but didn't spend much time on any one of them. For example, he mentioned the topic of breast cancer and its' relation to silicon implants. After briefly hitting on the topic, he said he would be coming back to it, but unfortunately never did. What he had to say however, on the general topic of statistics, made me think a little more about believing what I read when I pick up the paper. It seems like common sence not to take these statistics at face value, but it is so easy to find yourself accepting them without a second thought when something strikes you as interesting. I enjoyed the lecture quite a bit.

In the future, it would be great if we could get a bigger lecture hall since we seem to keep running out of room!

I went to the lecture this afternoon with the narrow-minded vision of a math professor lecturing on the mundane. Much to my surprise, I was entertained by Prof. Paulos's citings and also intregued by the extremes to which data and "facts" are not only erroneously reported, but also accepted. I believe much of this widespread acceptance or response comes from the fact that no one person is literate enough in as many fields as there is research to sort the facts from the falsehoods for himself. And, as a consequence, I think we generally accept what we hear and see on the "news" as accurate... after all, NBC wouldn't report on it if it didn't come from a source. right? And then we must define "credible", and "linked", "news", etc. Over time, we all experience a situation in which an update or data is provided and propagated which is not true, and, after enough such experiences, I think we become desensitized to media and the like. As interesting a subject as it is to delve into, it seems to me comparable to opening Pandora's box.

I attended the lecture today, and was very surprised. I missed the first one, and when I arrived at this one was surprised at the size of the crowd. It was an excellent lecture, though I had to leave a few minutes before it ended. If it is possible could you mail me a list of his books, or possibly just a few. It is good to see someone who can speak so well about something that is not quite your normal lecturing material.

I thought the lecture was interesting. A good question to have asked him,would have been if he beleived in that life was predictable. Steven Hawking believes that the particles that make up the human brain can be represented by a system of equations that in theory could be solved to predict your future and that people are not responsible for their actions. I beleive Mr. Hawking has made the grave mistake of equating life with matter only.