I've just read Weapons of Math Destruction, by Cathy O'Neil. It's all about the mathematics behind the algorithms that underlie many of the processes in our lives today, including processing job applications and evaluating teachers' performance. Mathematics is regarded as objective, and therefore true, but the underlying assumptions, and the statistics on which the models are based, can be flawed, to put it mildly.
I've also reviewed the book for a magazine, and will publish a link to that when it appears. Please note that the link above is an Amazon affiliate link.
As I have a limited word count for the magazine article I couldn't say everything I wanted to about this book. What I liked about it were the following:
It's well-written. By that I am not talking about grammar and stuff, although I'm sure that's OK. I'm referring to the author's ability to make a complex subject interesting for the lay reader. In short, I ain't no mathematician, but I was able to keep up with what she was saying. Mind you, the section on the banking crisis was challenging, but given that most bankers don't seem to understand it either I'm not too upset.
It takes the lid off the idea that mathematics is objective, and that therefore algorithms and computer programs are too. I'm sure many of us (in the UK) recall the 'Computer says no' sketches. Here's one to watch if you're not familiar with them: Computer says no #12. Too much faith is put into computer processes that even the people who use them don't understand. This book shows us the emperor's new clothes.
What I did not like were the references to the minutiae of baseball. I'm sure that won't be a problem in America but for me those passages might just as well have been written in Greek. I skimmed over those bits. (I apologise if that comment has upset any of my American readers. If it's any consolation, I don't understand cricket either.)
But overall I'd recommend Weapons of Math Destruction to all teachers and high school students of Computing.
This review was originally published in my newsletter, Digital Education. To subscribe, please go to the newsletter page.