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A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper by John Allen Paulos

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New Survey Reveals Changing Attitudes

Societal Gas Laws

Looking at the daily statistical snapshots feature in the corner of USA Today, I wonder at the extent to which polling and measuring have become a national pastime. This mindset that now seems so familiar can be traced to the nineteenth-century Belgian academic Adolphe Quetelet, who wrote:

Thus we pass from one year to another with the sad perspective of seeing the same crimes reproduced in the same order and calling down the same punishments in the same proportions. Sad condition of humanity! The part of prisons, of irons, and of the scaffold seem fixed for it as much as the revenue of the state. We might enumerate in advance how many individuals will stain their hands in the blood of their ...

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