Brad DeLong says that Andrew Sullivan, like most reporters, is innumerate. This doesn’t surprise me at all, really. I know a lot of highly intelligent, overeducated people. Most are very good at words or numbers. Few are very good at both. While I did well enough in my stats classes and am at least conversant enough in numbers to be skeptical of bad reporting, I nonetheless quite often overlook obvious points and make errors such as Sullivan makes here.

Temple math professor John Allen Paulos has made a lot of money over the years writing on this general topic, including Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences (1989) and A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper (1995). I commend both to you. They’re written at a very intuitive level so that even a non-stats geek can get the point.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Leo says:

    Oh, I quite enjoyed the old, “How to lie with statistics” (not by the same author, but very interesting) and the somewhat newer, “How to lie with maps.”

  2. Guy Cabot says:

    BTW, Paulos has a new book out concerning his (mis)adventures playing the stock market. Really good stuff on heuristics.

    I enjoyed his explanation about the “anchoring effect” which applies beyond numeracy.

  3. bryan says:

    Hey, give these journalists a break. they haven’t even been able to figure out that the Big Ten has 11 teams.

  4. GT says:

    Sullivan should refrain from having strong opinions about things he does not understand.

  5. bryan says:

    So, GT, Sully should just shut down his blog, then? 😉

    I think your recommendation would spell the end of the entire blogosphere.