Leila Schneps and Coralie Colmez
Math on trial : how numbers get used and abused in the courtroom
Basic Books, New Cork, 2013, xi, 256 pp.
In the wrong hands, math can be deadly. Even the simplest numbers can become powerful forces when manipulated by politicians or the media, but in the case of the law, your liberty—and your life—can depend on the right calculation.
In Math on Trial, mathematicians Leila Schneps and Coralie Colmez describe ten trials spanning from the nineteenth century to today, in which mathematical arguments were used—and disastrously misused—as evidence. They tell the stories of Sally Clark, who was accused of murdering her children by a doctor with a faulty sense of calculation; of nineteenth-century tycoon Hetty Green, whose dispute over her aunt’s will became a signal case in the forensic use of mathematics; and of the case of Amanda Knox, in which a judge’s misunderstanding of probability led him to discount critical evidence—which might have kept her in jail. Offering a fresh angle on cases from the nineteenth-century Dreyfus affair to the murder trial of Dutch nurse Lucia de Berk, Schneps and Colmez show how the improper application of mathematical concepts can mean the difference between walking free and life in prison.
A colorful narrative of mathematical abuse, Math on Trial blends courtroom drama, history, and math to show that legal expertise isn’t always enough to prove a person innocent.
Math error number 1: multiplying non-independent probabilities: the Clark case : motherhood under attack
Math error number 2: unjustified estimates: the case of Janet Collins: hairstyle probability
Math error number 3: trying to get something from nothing: the case of Joe Sneed: absent from the phone book
Math error number 4: double experiment: the case of Amanda Knox: media versus justice
Math error number 5: the birthday problem: the cold case of Diana Sylvester
Math error number 6: Simpson’s paradox: the Berkeley sex bias case
Math error number 7: «the incredible coincidence»: the case of Lucia de Berk: carer or killer?
Math error number 8: underestimation: Charles Ponzi: American dream, American scheme
Math error number 9: choosing a wrong model: the case of Hetty Green : a battle of wills
Math error number 10: mathematical madness: the Dreyfus case: spy or scapegoat?.
Leila Schneps studied mathematics at Harvard University and now holds a research position at the University of Paris, France.
Coralie Colmez, graduated with a First from Cambridge University in 2009, and now lives in London where she teaches and writes about mathematics. They both belong to the Bayes in Law Research Consortium, an international team devoted to improving the use of probability and statistics in criminal trials.