SCIENCES

Humble Pi: When Math Goes Wrong in the Real World

Riverhead. Jan. 2020. 336p. ISBN 9780593084687. $27. MATH
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Parker (Things to Make and Do in the Fourth Dimension) explains how the misuse of math creates problems. Mathematical errors often include mistaking units (pounds for kilograms, feet for meters), and misunderstanding probabilistic and statistical statements. Parker also presents examples of users of computer software not fully understanding the limitations of packaged programs. The only topic that is somewhat technical and requires a bit of effort to follow is Parker’s explanation of how the inexactitudes introduced by inputting and outputting date in decimal form leads to problems because the internal computations are actually done in binary. Yet, Parker has a sly wit; so, although all this sounds very serious, in fact, the writing style is breezy and, in some parts, extremely funny.
VERDICT A clever, amusing book about some of life’s more serious problems; highly recommended.

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