John Allen Paulos

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John Allen Paulos
John Allen Paulos.JPG
John Allen Paulos
Born (1945-07-04) July 4, 1945 (age 68)
Nationality American
Fields Mathematics
Institutions Temple University
Alma mater University of Wisconsin–Madison
Known for Author of books and articles on a variety of topics, especially the combatting of innumeracy
Notable awards 2003 AAAS Award

John Allen Paulos (born July 4, 1945) was born in Denver Colorado. He is now an American professor of mathematics at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He has gained fame as a writer and speaker on mathematics and the importance of mathematical literacy. Paulos writes about many subjects, especially of the dangers of mathematical innumeracy; that is, the layperson's misconceptions about numbers, probability, logic.

Early life[edit]

Paulos grew up in Chicago, Illinois and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In an interview he described himself as lifelong skeptic.[1] He went to high school in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. After his Bachelor of Mathematics at University of Wisconsin (1967) and his Master of Science at University of Washington (1968) he received his Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Wisconsin–Madison (1974). He was also part of the Peace Corps in the seventies.[2]


His academic work is mainly in mathematical logic and probability theory.

His book Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and its Consequences (1988) was an influential bestseller and A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper (1995) extended the critique. In his books Paulos discusses innumeracy with quirky anecdotes, scenarios and facts, encouraging readers in the end to look at their world in a more quantitative way.

He has also written on other subjects, such as the mathematical and philosophical basis of humor in Mathematics and Humor and I Think, Therefore I Laugh,the stock market in A Mathematician Plays the Stock Market, quantitative aspects of narrative in Once Upon a Number, and the arguments for God in Irreligion.

Paulos also wrote a mathematics-tinged column for the UK newspaper The Guardian and is a Committee for Skeptical Inquiry fellow (formally known as Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP)).[3]

Paulos has appeared frequently on radio and television, including a four-part BBC adaptation of A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper and appearances on the Lehrer News Hour, 20/20, Larry King, and David Letterman.[4] His long-running monthly column Who's Counting[5] deals with mathematical aspects of stories in the news.


Paulos tweets frequently at twitter@johnallenpaulos

"Uncertainty is the only certainty there is, and knowing how to live with insecurity is the only security.” from introduction to A Mathematician Plays the Market

"Mathematics is no more computation than literature is typing" from Innumeracy

"It is not just mathematics and it is not just storytelling, it is kind of yogied together"[1]

"Placebos work about as well in politics as they do in healthcare"[6]

"Now for better news of a kind of immortal persistence. First, take a deep breath. Assume Shakespeare's account is accurate and Julius Caesar gasped "You too, Brutus" before breathing his last. What are the chances you just inhaled a molecule which Caesar exhaled in his dying breath? The surprising answer is that, with probability better than 99 percent, you did just inhale such a molecule."[7]

"There remains a chasm, and perhaps always will be one, between stories and statistics. But nevertheless, it's worth building bridges across this chasm whenever possible"[8]


Paulos received the 2013 JPBM (Joint Policy Board for Mathematics) Award for Communicating Mathematics on a Sustained Basis to Large Audiences.[9]

Paulos received the 2003 AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) Award for Promoting the Public Understanding of Science and Technology.[10]

In 2002 he received the University Creativity Award at Temple University[11]

Paulos' article "Counting on Dyscalculia," which appeared in Discover Magazine in 1994, won a Folio Award that year[12]



External links[edit]