On numeracy…

Staying on the subject, I highly recommend the book Innumeracy by mathematician John Allen Paulos. It’s a discussion about how to be more numerate and why it’s such an integral part of critical reasoning. I read it nearly 20 years ago. It was influential and entertaining. It was recommended reading in my training and my firm even had Paulos give a talk to the traders. You can read the book for free online. (Link)

His passage on astrology will give you a flavor of his typical takedowns.

Astrology maintains that the gravitational attraction of the planets at the time of one’s birth somehow has an effect on one’s personality. This seems very difficult to swallow, for two reasons: (a) no physical or neurophysiological mechanism through which this gravitational (or other sort of) attraction is supposed to act is ever even hinted at, much less explained; and (b) the gravitational pull of the delivering obstetrician far outweighs that of the planet or planets involved. Remember that the gravitational force an object exerts on a body—say, a newborn baby—is proportional to the object’s mass but inversely proportional to the square of the distance of the object from the body—in this case, the baby. Does this mean that fat obstetricians deliver babies that have one set of personality characteristics, and skinny ones deliver babies that have quite different characteristics?

Paulos also wrote a book called A Mathematician Plays The Stock Market. It’s passable if you read Fooled By Randomness and A Random Walk Down Wall Street which sold many more copies.

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