Skip to content


When I tell people about my work, by far the most common response is “Oh, I hated statistics in college.” We’ve been over that before. Sometimes someone will ask me to explain the Monty Hall problem. Anyway, another one I’ve been getting a lot lately is whether I watch the show Numbers. I’ve never seen it (I don’t have cable), but I’m a little curious about it–does anyone out there watch it? Is it any good? Just wondering….


  1. Byron says:

    Its on CBS so you don't need cable. Basically its an extension of the CSI genre (lets give it a name, Technical Crime Drama). In this case, eccentric Caltech (although they call the place Cal Sci for some reason) mathematician helps FBI agent brother solve crimes. If CSI does it for you, Numbers will probably also work for you.

    The math jargon is so-so, a lot of machine learning and pattern recognition language sneaks in there. Still the little expository idea segments (where brilliant brother explains idea to gun toting agents) are usually pretty slick and definitely more engaging than trying to explain what a confidence interval actually means (hint hint Stat 100 textbook authors…)

  2. Jim says:

    I haven't seen it too, and won't because I don't watch television, but I could see where a few episodes might come from.
    I have taught my children 33554432 because they can remember it, and because it is 2 to the 25th. All in one number, the definition of exponents, and a feeling of power over numbers both large and small.
    Do not forget 1001. Take an arbitrary 3 digit number. Repeat it to get ABCABC. Now that will be divisible by 143. Pretend that it took some effort to determine that. ABCABC is also divisible by 91. Wow!
    So if I had a TV, if I had cable, if I was bored, maybe I would look at "numbers".
    P.S. I never took "statistics", just learned a little bit on the street corners, so I never developed a hate for it. :v)

  3. Josh says:

    Sam- Numbers is on CBS on Friday evenings at 10 eastern (thanks be to Tivo.) It's a good show- sort of like CSI with mathematicians. Well, one mathematician and one physicist. And on last night's episode, an engineering professor. As you can imagine, alot of the math is really statistics. Last night's episode, for instance, had the mathematician using principal components analysis to reduce 6,000 measurements of an arson fire down to a 15 measurement "fire signature." That sort of thing. They have good consultants, I can't remember an instance where they've gotten the math wrong.

    There are some interesting character dynamics- the head of the FBI team is the older brother of the math genius, so there is the usual tension of a sibling relationship where the younger sibling was a genius and the older sibling was the cool, popular kid. There's also a psychologist on the FBI team, which I think is supposed to generate some sort of tension with the math stuff, but I never really see it. Anyway, it's a good show, and it's on a network, so check it out when you get a chance.

  4. AM says:

    I do watch Numbers regularly, the only show I do. Although not a mathematician, I am a research scientist and find the show very enjoyable. Math is fascinating to me and I read nontechnical discussions quite frequently. The math in the show is presented quite superficially (no surprise) but accurately. The interesting aspects are the contexts in which math is applied and the diversity. Apparently many of the contexts are derived from real cases and that may explain the richness of the contexts presented. The unexpected richness of the applications are what give the show its flavor for me. The impression is similar to the original CSI show, where my grasp of the science is better. Again, the treatment is superficial it is accurate enough and interesting to see the applications.

    There is a web site for the show with a section sponsored by TI providing more background on the math in the show that people interested in the ideas might find interesting. It is geared more towards teaching high school students.

  5. patrick says:

    It's not on cable, but it's on Fri. nights @10, so only old married people watch it.

  6. Stan says:

    It comes on CBS Friday nights so you don't need cable to catch it. Sometimes it is hit or miss. I feel that it is trying to do for math what CSI has done for forensics. Most of the time I feel they are really reaching to work in the math but the acting is pretty good.

  7. Suresh says:

    Numb3rs is on CBS, so you might be able to catch it anyway. I used to watch it regularly (and post reviews); now I watch it, but the reviews are only occasional.

    It's an OK show: the premise is that an FBI agent has his brilliant math prof brother help him solve crime using mathematical modelling. This brother of course is a mathematical Renaissance man, knowing everything from game theory and theoretical computer science to civil engineering principles.

    Not much statistics is used on the show, but it's fairly entertaining as a CSI-type show.

  8. John S. says:

    I haven't seen Numbers either, but one thing I do know is that you don't have to have cable TV to see it. It's on CBS Channel 2 in New York City. I too have heard it's good, but I usually have better things to do on Friday night than watch TV.

  9. brent says:

    My wife and I like "Numb3rs," though it suffers from romanticization of smartness = oddness. Problem-solvers are borderline hermits, policy analysts are furrowed and flummoxed, and attractiveness is inversely proportional to insight (except for our hero, of course, who is endowed with the best of both worlds). But Judd Hirsch is such a nice man, and who can resist the crime drama where the thinking is the hard work?

    I worry sometimes that people pretend to "hate" statistics (and math in general) because they don't want their attractiveness to suffer. Has anyone actually modelled the causality of braininess and geekiness (seems like it could go either way)? As a (mere) "frequentist," I lay this problem at your Baysian feet.

  10. Bellinda says:

    I watched it actually for the first time last week. Ok, well when I say I watched it I mean it was on. A few comments caught my attention, but the show as a whole didn't really capture my attention, just the odd mention of types of analyses. I can't see myself becoming a fan!

  11. Jason M says:

    I watch the show. I tend to like it. But, it is NOTICEABLY worse this year than last, which was its first season.

    They "re-tooled" the show to make it a little more mainstream, and thus take out a bit of the math/scientist/geek funkiness. That being said, they still do alot of math.

    My main problem is that they imported several good looking actors to play standard crime show character types, and the plotting is dumbed-down compared to the previous season where the math/science and the crime-solving were much more tightly interwoven. Subtle differences. But, I hate watching a crime show and pointing out stupid basic plot holes.

  12. Garrett Glasgow says:

    You forgot to mention it's not on cable.

  13. jzs says:

    I really like Numb3rs.

    What more can I say?

    CBS has really done their homework. From what I've read, they have a lot of math consultants.

  14. Wayne says:

    Numbers is a great show. It uses mathematics to solve crimes. This is a very unique format. The philosophy and techniques are great.