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 70)
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) is 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 was born in Denver Colorado and 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]

In 2001 Paulos introduced and taught a course on quantitative literacy for journalists at the Columbia University School of Journalism. The course stimulated further programs at Columbia and elsewhere in precision and data-driven journalism, programs that have now become common.

His long-running "" monthly column Who's Counting[5] deals with mathematical aspects of stories in the news. All the columns over a 10- year period are archived here.[5]

He is married, the father of two, and the grandfather of three.


Paulos tweets frequently at @JohnAllenPaulos - The Top 50 Science Stars of Twitter

"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 Stock Market

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

"The most amazing coincidence of all would be the complete absence of all coincidence" from "Innumeracy" and "Irreligion"

"It is not just mathematics and it is not just storytelling, it is something inextricably yoked together"[1]

"Having freedom of speech only when you don't need it is a bit like having a flashlight that is powered by the sun" sample Paulos tweet

"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."[6]

"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"[7]

"Measuring the tiny gap in votes between the two candidates (Bush and Gore) is a bit like measuring the lengths of two bacteria with a yardstick. The Florida electoral system, in particular, is incapable of making such fine determinations." from Measuring Bacteria With a Yardstick


Paulos received the 2013 JPBM (Joint Policy Board for Mathematics) Award for Communicating Mathematics on a Sustained Basis to Large Audiences.[8]

Paulos received the 2003 AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) Award for Promoting the Public Understanding of Science and Technology.[9]

In 2002 he received the University Creativity Award at Temple University[10]

Paulos' article "Counting on Dyscalculia," which appeared in Discover Magazine in 1994, won a Folio Award that year[11]



External links[edit]