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New Lies

In the 1990s, John Paulos made it big time as an mathematician-turned-author, especially with his book Innumeracy. This book, and his two subsequent books--A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper and Once Upon a Number–The Hidden Mathematical Logic of Stories--go beyond Huff's How to Lie With Statistics by illustrating society's misuse of numbers in general.

Now, John Henshaw has gone even one step further and in another direction, with his publication of Does Measurement Measure Up? How Numbers Reveal and Conceal the Truth (2006). That is, Henshaw extends Huff's approach by discussing how one can lie with measurements.

By examining carefully “what we measure, why we measure, and how we measure,” Henshaw discusses both the use and misuse of measurements in all aspects of society—-intelligence (e.g. SAT, NCLB), environment factors (e.g. global warning), medicine (e.g. MRI), election results (e.g. sampling and the hanging chad), sports, and forensics (e.g. DNA fingerprinting). A common thread throughout the book is the interrelationship of knowledge and measurement, an interrelationship that can both mislead and educate.

Along the way, Henshaw does a great job of tossing in historical anecdotes, raising philosophical concerns, identifying social issues, and providing interesting factoids....all things that students would enjoy reading or hearing about in a class discussion. Why not assign a chapter to a student to summarize and present to the full class?