The following first appeared on Junk Charts on Feb 11:
One of the reasons I started Junk Charts five years ago was to create an outlet for my writing. To manufacture a reason to write regularly. Writing has been important to me since young, but for a long time, I did not have the discipline to sit down and produce. Once the blog found its legs, the need to satisfy a responsive, attentive, demanding audience dissolves the problem.
Then I got more ambitious: the blog experiment soon parlayed into a book project. The book project started close to Junk Charts but eventually took its own path. While Junk Charts focuses on how data is, and should be, presented in the mass media, and how the media influences public opinion through such presentation, the book takes a more expansive look at how data-driven decision-making occurs in our world: how statistical thinking shapes our work life, our health, our economy, our education, etc., often in hidden and surprising ways.
The title is "Numbers Rule Your World: The hidden influence of probability and statistics on everything you do." It is published by McGraw-Hill; the official publication date is February 19. It is already available from various online retailers. (Amazon, B&N, Borders) My neighborhood bookstore has it out already.
This is a timely topic. So many current events are influenced strongly by statistical thinking:
- Counter-terrorism: how do statistical technologies, such as profiling and prediction via data mining, work? what are the benefits and costs of such methods? what is the risk of dying in a terrorist attack relative to other risks?
- Toyota recall: do recalls work: how many deaths do they prevent, how much economic losses do they cause? what is the risk of dying due to the brake defect relative to other risks? how can one establish the brake defect as the cause of prior accidents?
- Mammogram guidelines: what is the statistical science behind the revised guidelines? why is this not a black and white issue? how should we evaluate research studies of this kind?
- Economic statistics: what is the "seasonal adjustment" used to modify employment data? what is the birth death model? should one look at quarter to quarter comparisons or year to year? why is it useless to compare same-store sales statistics for retailers in the past few years?
- Efficacy of anti-depressants: what is the placebo effect? do anti-depressants work for some but not for others? how are clinical trials conducted, funded and reported?
- Swine flu response: what is the risk of dying from swine flu? how should one evaluate the level of risk? How do vaccines work? what is "herd immunity"? what is the "precautionary principle"? why do responses in different countries differ?
- Autism clusters: when do statisticians tell apart "something small" from "nothing at all"? how can one draw confident conclusions with only a few samples? do they know the cause of such clusters?
Numbers Rule Your World explains, using stories (no formulas), how we can use statistical thinking to think smartly about these issues and more.
In the acknowledgement, I wrote:
throughout this project, I was inspired by fans of my Junk Charts blog
So you are the first to learn about the book.
In the next few days, I will offer perspectives on how the book came into being, why I wrote it, and who I wrote it for. I hope you'll be as excited about the book as I am!