Maths on Trial
Leila Schneps, Coralie Colmez

Maths on Trial

Maths on Trial covers ten criminal cases in each of which, at a crucial point, a mathematical mistake played a significant role. Probability and statistics are used for multiple purposes in the world of criminality: identification, DNA analysis, database trawling, proving discrimination, making handwriting comparisons, and even as a tool of last resort in the very detection of the act of murder. Each time this occurs, there is a risk of error, and each such error carries the risk of a serious miscarriage of justice.

The ten cases are ordered according to the difficulty of the maths they contain, from easiest to hardest; each one is preceded by a short introduction to the problems and errors involved. From the 19th century “witch of Wall Street” forgery affair to the recent murder in Italy of British student Meredith Kercher, the cases cover more than a century in half a dozen countries. Some are famous, others obscure, but all tell the stories of people of flesh and blood; real men and women who were accused and convicted of crimes ranging from stealing handbags to suffocating babies, from bilking investors to violent stabbings, from forging and spying to serial killing. Powerful and sometimes tragic tales of accusation, discrimination and wrongful imprisonment, they are perfect showcases for the danger of misusing mathematics.

Book Details:

  • Author: Leila Schneps, , Coralie Colmez
  • On Submission
  • Rights Sold
    • Germany: Hanser
    • USA: Basic
    • Brazil: Jorge Zahar
    • France: Du Seuil

Leila Schneps,

After taking an undergraduate degree in pure mathematics at Harvard University, Leila Schneps moved to France definitively in 1983, where shortly after obtaining her Ph.D., she was hired by the French National Scienctific Research Centre as a researcher in mathematics. Over twenty years of doing maths, teaching, and mentoring graduate students, her interests have widened far beyond the horizons of pure algebra to aspects of mathematics - such as probability and statistics- that play a more visible role in the world around us, and to the way in which people absorb, reject or react to mathem...
More about Leila Schneps,

Coralie Colmez

Coralie Colmez was born in Paris, and educated there until she left to study mathematics at Caius College, Cambridge, where she was awarded a Cambridge European Trust scholarship. She graduated with a First Class degree in 2009, winning the Ryan Prize in Higher Mathematics. Next, Coralie spent a year working as a researcher and assistant for the Maths Taskforce, a team set up on the initiative of David Cameron and under the direction of Carol Vorderman to produce a report on the problems with mathematics education in England, and ideas for solutions.She now lives in London and works tutori...
More about Coralie Colmez

Book Reviews

  • "[A]n entertaining tour of courtroom calculations gone wrong…. The cases they describe are independently interesting, and the mathematical overlay makes them doubly so…. [A]s the problems are unraveled and the correct analyses explained, readers will enjoy a satisfying sense of discovery.  Schneps and Colmez write with lucidity and an infectious enthusiasm, making this an engaging and unique blend of true crime and mathematics"
    Publishers Weekly
  • "Schneps and Colmez are a mother-daughter pair sophisticated in the ways of probability…. The authors…fill out the volume with wonderful accounts of frauds and forgeries…. [T]he authors’ analysis of the recent Amanda Knox case [is] particularly chilling.  Required reading for aspiring lawyers, but also intrinsically fascinating in its depiction of the frailty of human judgments."
    Kirkus Reviews
  • "The originator of sociology, Auguste Comte, said that applying probability to moral questions was the scandal of mathematics. Math On Trial charts the ambivalent—occasionally disastrous—role that math has played in several classic and some recent legal cases. It vividly shows how the desire for ‘scientific’ certainty can lead even well-meaning courts to commit grave injustice. There ought to be a copy in every jury room.  "
    Michael Kaplan and Ellen Kaplan, authors of Chances Areā€¦: Adventures in Probability and Bozo Sapiens: Why to Err Is Human
  • "  Taut and gripping, Math on Trial just might establish a new genre, in which true crime story meets the best of popular science. Utterly absorbing from start to finish."
    Steven Strogatz, Professor of Mathematics, Cornell University, and author of The Joy of x
  • "  Schneps and Colmez mix good legal dramas with clear and concise mathematical explications."
    Slate, Future Tense blog
  • "  [T]he authors shine, and the dramatic presentation [of the court cases] will grip many readers…. [Math on Trial] stimulates both thought and interest. As a result, this book needs to be on any teacher’s short list of possible outside readings…. [E]ngaging reading."
    MAA Reviews
  • "    Taking a series of riveting cases, including murders, rapes and sex discrimination, Schneps and Colmez both chart the history of the use of math in court, and clearly reveal common fallacies in its use. And it is un-put-down-able stuff. Never have I been this enlivened by mathematics! I found myself tearing through the book, finishing within a few hours, and was particularly struck by several landmark cases that I had glimpsed in the news but not paid much attention to before.... one of the strengths of the book is how gripping and emotional it is, for a work of non-fiction."
    Huffington Post
  • "...all the marks of a good mystery: tense conflicts, diverse characters and shock conclusions…Gripping and insightful, it successfully highlights the dangers of carelessly sprinkling mathematics over real-world problems."
    BBC Focus
  • "... an easy and fun read. The cases, like so many criminal cases, are fascinating in their details. The older cases, in particular, are entertaining, and the mathematical hooks bring a different perspective to the Dreyfus affair (Ch. 10) and the story of Charles Ponzi (Ch. 8)....Math on Trial is an entertaining and informative read for those interested in true crime with a mathematical hook. Perhaps it will impress upon the general public the importance of numeracy and inspire them to look beyond and behind the numbers that are trumpeted around us. If so, that would be all to the good."
    Notices of the American Mathematical Society