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People vs. Collins: statistics as a two-edged sword. (English)
AMATYC Rev. 28, No. 1, 22-30 (2006).
Summary: Real-life applications of the use (and misuse) of mathematics invariably pique students’ interest. This article describes a legal case in California that occurred in the 1960’s in which a couple was convicted of robbery, in part, based on the expert testimony of a statistics instructor. On appeal, the judge noted several mathematical errors in this testimony and overturned the conviction. In fact, he observed that at least one of the instructor’s arguments actually pointed to the innocence of the accused couple. This article gives the details of the alleged crime itself, the main points of the instructor’s testimony, and the judge’s corrections. It ends with an interesting mathematical footnote from the judge, the details of which surprisingly involve an application of L’Hôspital’s rule.
Classification: M90 K40 K70 K90 I20 I40
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