The arithmetic geometer Leila Schneps, who taught me most of what I know about Galois actions on fundamental groups of varieties, has a new book out, Math on Trial: How Numbers Get Used and Abused in the Courtroom, written with her daughter Coralie Colmez. Each chapter covers a famous case whose resolution, for better or worse, involved a mathematical argument. Interspersed among the homicide and vice are short chapters that speak directly to some of the mathematical and statistical issues that arise in legal matters. One of the cases is the much-publicized prosecution of college student Amanda Knox for a murder in Italy; today in the New York Times, Schneps and Colmez write about some of the mathematical pratfalls in their trial.
I am happy to have played some small part in building their book — I was the one who told Leila about the murder of Diana Sylvester, which turned into a whole chapter of Math on Trial; very satisfying to see the case treated with much more rigor, depth, and care than I gave it on the blog! I hope it is not a spoiler to say that Schneps and Colmez come down on the side of assigning a probability close to 1 that the right man was convicted (though not nearly so close to 1 as the prosecution claimed, and perhaps to close enough for a jury to have rightfully convicted, depending on how you roll re “reasonable doubt.”)
Anyway — great book! Buy, read, publicize!
I just listened to an interview with them about this book. I’ll definitely pick it up soon. I’m especially interested to see what they say about Amanda Knox considering she was a UW (Washington) student.
Today is Grothendieck’s 85th birthday.
As a trial lawyer and a statistics fan, I am thoroughly enjoying this book. If you ever find yourself involved in litigation that might involved science or math, make sure your lawyer not only “gets it” but can “teach it” to the judge or jury..
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