- - Monday, September 20, 2010

The numbers game

Charles Seife is steaming mad about all the ways that numbers are being twisted to erode our democracy. We’re used to being lied to with words (‘I am not a crook’; ‘I did not have sexual relations with that woman’). But numbers? They’re supposed to be cold, hard and objective. Numbers don’t lie, and they brook no argument. They’re the best kind of facts we have.

“And that’s precisely why they can be so powerfully, persuasively misleading, as Seife argues in his passionate new book, ‘Proofiness.’ Seife, a veteran science writer who teaches journalism at New York University, examines the many ways that people fudge with numbers, sometimes just to sell more moisturizer but also to ruin our economy, rig our elections, convict the innocent and undercount the needy. Many of his stories would be darkly funny if they weren’t so infuriating.

“Although Seife never says so explicitly, the book’s title alludes to ‘truthiness’ — the Word of the Year in 2005, according to the American Dialect Society, which defined it as ‘the quality of preferring concepts or facts one wishes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true.’ The term was popularized by Stephen Colbert in the first episode of ‘The Colbert Report.’ The numerical cousin of truthiness is proofiness: ‘the art of using bogus mathematical arguments to prove something that you know in your heart is true — even when it’s not.’”

Steven Strogatz, “Fibbing With Numbers, The New York Times, Sept. 17.

More meaningless terpsichore

“Kate Gosselin did it, so why not Katie Couric? At Us Weekly’s 25 Most Stylish New Yorkers fete in New York City, CBS Evening News anchor and Today show veteran Katie Couric shared a new career goal.

“‘My secret fantasy, sadly, is to be on ‘Dancing With the Stars’, Couric, 53, confessed to UsMagazine.com.

“‘But I don’t know, those skimpy outfits,’ added the newswoman, who graced the black carpet in a golden Carmen Marc Valvo dress and Stuart Weitzman shoes.

“The trim Couric joked: ‘Seriously, it’d be like, ‘Paging Jenny Craig, stat!’

“Other than DWTS, the widowed mother of two daughters isn’t a huge fan of reality shows. ‘My daughter watches Keeping Up With the Kardashians,’ she said. ‘I really don’t understand the whole genre to be honest with you. You know, God love them if they’re willing to invite people into every aspect of their personal life.’

“One reality star she’d love to interview: Real Housewives of DC star Michaele Salahi — a.k.a. the White House party crasher. ‘I met her in line at the White House State Dinner,’ Couric recounted. ‘She took my picture; she was so nice and it was crazy that she wasn’t really invited.’”

USMagazine.com, “Katie Couric Wants to Be on Dancing With the Stars!” Sept. 19

Viva Marriott

“You may have heard that dining out in France isn’t what it used to be. And I would have to agree. We had our share of bad meals in big cities and small towns all over France. But there were stellar meals to be had as well, and we often found them in unexpected places. One of the most surprising was at a Courtyard by Marriott just outside of Paris, in Neuilly, at the hotel’s restaurant, Brasserie Victor Hugo.

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