Mathematical communication and the law

Posted on February 5th, 2011 by

Students who study math or computer science learn to communicate precisely, which can serve them well even in other areas. For example, some of our alumni have become successful lawyers. A remarkable story about a court case is a good illustration of why precision matters.

I’m reminded of one of the peculiarities of mathematical communication, which is the propensity to say “strictly greater than” as a way of signaling “I really do mean greater than, not greater than or equal to.” This court case shows why the distinction benefits from some redundant verbal emphasis. The appeals court noticed that the amount in dispute wasn’t strictly greater than $75,000, as it needed to be for the federal courts to have jurisdiction. Neither of the two parties nor the lower federal court had caught this.


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