Sarcasm and hyperbole aside,victimization and the differential treatment of groups,whether intentional or not,are the basis for many a news story. The percentage of African-American students at elite colleges,the proportion of women in managerial positions,the ratio of Hispanic representatives in legislatures have all been written about extensively. Oddly enough,the shape of normal bell-shaped statistical curves sometimes has unexpected consequences for such situations. For example,even a slight divergence between the averages of different population groups is accentuated at the extreme ends of these curves,and these extremes often receive inordinate attention in the press.
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Ten is a common and familiar number, the base of our number system. Numbers are rounded to 10 or to multiples of ten or tenths. The resulting distortion, of course, need not have much to do with reality. Is there anything more vapid than explanation by decade? In the free love, antiwar sixties, hippies felt so and so; the greed of the eighties led yuppies to do such and such; sullen and unread Generation Xers never do anything.
They want the bare facts, and they want them now. The list is consistent with a linear approach to problems. Nothing is complex or convoluted; every factor can be ranked. If we do a, b, or c, then x, y, or z will happen. Proportionality reigns. Numbers are often associated with rites, and this is a perfect example.
It has biblical resonance, the Ten Commandments being one of its first instances. The list can be a complete story. It has a beginning: 1, 2, 3; a middle: 4, 5, 6, 7; and an end, 8, 9, Many stories in the news are disconnected; the list is unitary.
Or even complete sentences. The same holds for the 10, 50, and years ago today fillers. Since there are never any clear criteria for what constitutes an entry on such a list, items on short lists can easily be split, and those on long lists can just as easily be combined. Show More Editorial Reviews A wise and thoughtful book, which skewers much of what everyone knows to be true.
A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper
In an interview he described himself as lifelong skeptic. He was also part of the Peace Corps in the seventies. John Allen Paulos, Innumeracy The most amazing coincidence of all would be the complete absence of all coincidences. John Allen Paulos, "Irreligion" His academic work is mainly in mathematical logic and probability theory.
John Allen Paulos