Book Review: Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O'Neill

3 Pages Posted: 16 Jun 2018

See all articles by Apurv Jain

Apurv Jain

MacroXStudio; Harvard Business School; Microsoft Corporation - Microsoft Research - Redmond

Date Written: May 30, 2018


Cathy O’Neil is a quant, and her experience comes across in her entertaining book “Weapons of Math Destruction.” It is an insider’s disillusioned tale about the dark side of large scale predictive analytics. These data and models affect many areas of our life from the financial markets where we invest our savings, to selecting educational institutions, the labor market, our consumer behavior such as obtaining insurance and credit, our civic life, and even the prison system. The author cautions us against the religious fervor with which we, as a society, are embracing quantitative models in our quest for efficiency. She shows how models are biased, often built on flimsy understanding, lack a self-correcting feedback loop and accountability, and tend to create their own reality at the expense of the poor and the vulnerable. The author’s demands for more transparency in algorithms and the sacrificing of mathematical efficiency in the interest of fairness as a society should be a catalyst for important policy conversations. The title of the book might be an homage to Warren Buffet’s 2002 Berkshire annual report where citing flawed models and counterparty concentration risk (among others) he famously called derivatives, financial weapons of mass destruction.

Keywords: Weapons of Math Destruction, Review, Quant Models, Derivatives, Big Data

JEL Classification: A, C, O

Suggested Citation

Jain, Apurv, Book Review: Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O'Neill (May 30, 2018). Available at SSRN: or

Apurv Jain (Contact Author)


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