Blogging will resume after the holiday weekend. In the meantime, check out these photos from the book signing at Book Expo America (BEA) last week. The publisher set up a fun spinning wheel game as people lined up to get autographs. The books were snapped up in about a half hour, much to our surprise but a pleasant one. Some love numbers while many others know people who love numbers.
A few more reviews of the book by bloggers have trickled in, thankfully all positive.
From Claus at planetwater, a blog about "ground water, engineering, science, geo-statistics":
I really loved reading those stories. They are well written, I think
well understandable for somebody who is not experienced or even trained
in “statistical thinking”. Finally, a big plus is a longer than normal
“conclusions” section, where Kaiser Fung tries to put the underlying
basic thoughts of each story into almost all the other stories’ context.
See also Claus's post on "Magnitudes of Extreme Weather Events", which is his response to a topic in my book.
I really don’t do book reviews, but this is an exception. And I’m still in the middle of reading it, too... For folks who have inquisitive minds about why stuff is there and what
happens, I suggest reading Fung’s book, which was recommended by a
friend who also seems to be into understanding innocuous bits of
This is one of the best books I have ever read next to Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner... This book has opened my eyes to many more ideas of what may be behind
my thoughts and it will help me think rationally according to
statistics when making a decision in the future.
Originally heard of this from reading Tom Peter's Twitter
feed and it is well worth your time. Everyone instinctively knows the
role of numbers in your life, but here you can delve deeper and get a
much greater understanding which could change the way you live.
Seriously. Check it out.
In addition to the Japanese version, Numbers Rule Your World will be coming out in Chinese and Korean.
Since I have many European readers, I hope they will translate it to French, German, Spanish, Italian, etc.
Clive Thompson tells Wired readers that we should all speak the language of data. (The online version is here. The article also appears in the May issue.) He argues that statistical illiteracy is the nation's political problem. "If you don't understand statistics, you don't know what's going on -- and you can't tell when you're being lied to."
In other words, everyone should think like a statistician... my pitch to the Baltimore Sun reporter is here.
As happens with these interviews, a great deal was said, much of it vanished during the editing process.
The example I provided illustrates "survivorship bias". The most important metric for the retail sector is same-store sales growth, the average change in sales experienced by individual stores. Less known is the fact that only stores opened for at least one year are considered eligible for the sample: this is sensible since new stores may experience "growing pains" and thus unfairly drag the metric down.
Even less known is the fact that stores closed during the reporting period are excluded: this is sensible in a stable economy; removing transient activity can be justified if one wants to measure the average trend. In a recessionary environment, such an exclusion creates a bias in the sample, which has the effect of magically creating sales growth when sales is merely migrated from one store to another.
Imagine there are four Starbucks in your neighborhood (quite likely in NYC). Starbucks decided to shut one of the (low-performing) stores down. Because this store was not reported as open at the end of the month, it was deemed ineligible for the sample. Meanwhile, all the customers of this store took their business to the other three Starbucks in the neighborhood. Those three stores saw a jump in sales. The jump in sales constituted same-store sales growth, when in fact they merely migrated from the closed store.
It's a form of "survivorship bias" because the sample used to estimate same-store sales selectively included only "survivors". If the closed store were also added to the sample, then the drop in sales (to zero) at this store would cancel out the jump in sales in the other three stores, which would reflect the economic reality.
So, yes statistics is tricky but it can be learned.
Thanks, Clive, for devoting a column to make this important point.
The Kindle version of Numbers Rule Your World is now available from Amazon! You can now read my book at the bargain price of 9.99, delivered in "under a minute".
On April 23, I will be attending the 10th anniversary celebration of Princeton's Operations Research and Financial Engineering department. There will be two panel discussions on "Lessons from the Financial Crisis" and "Energy and Climate Change". This will take place in their brand-new building, Sherrerd Hall.
ORFE has become one of the most popular majors at Princeton. It's perfect for students who want to have one foot in engineering and the other in the social sciences. It's always been a great feeder program to Wall Street banks and management consulting firms although if any of the students are reading this, there is life outside of banks and consultancies! There are plenty of businesses who need quantitative thinkers like you.
The department is much older than ten. When I graduated, it was combined with Civil Engineering. This is their 10th year since splitting from Civil.
I'm gratified that readers are excited about a more balanced approach that points out both the good and bad of statistical analyses. This was what John Sall (SAS) and Ian Ayres (SuperCrunchers) picked up when they endorsed the book. Wilfred Wong noted that "the narration is honest, impartially inquired from different angles." Amazon reviewers pointed out the book explains "the benefits and trade-offs", and "the power and limitations"; said it's a "fun book", "extremely insightful", "a joy to read". Thank you!
You see, when I was conceiving the book, I struggled with whether to make it "fair and balanced", seeing that several bestsellers in this genre have set examples of glorifying one side of the debate, and these have been as influential as they are successful.
George at AntiPolygraph.org has reviewed the chapter of the book dealing with lie detectors, portable lie detectors, and data mining systems for terrorist detection. His site is chock-full of information relating to the use and abuse of polygraphs.
My interview with ReachMD radio is now placed here. Even if you are tired of me, you should tune in to the bit about eyes grown on tongues. Unreal.
*** John Grohol at PsychCentral mentioned my SuperFreakonomics series while talking about "Bending Science in Service of Book Promotion". I am preparing a response to his article.
Looking ahead, I am scheduled to be signing books at McGraw-Hill's booth #3440 at Book Expo in New York, May 26, 11 am-noon.
Canadian blogger Wayne Hurlbert (Blog Business World) reviewed the book positively:
Kaiser Fung walks the reader through the
mysterious, but always intriguing world of applied statistics. His
stories range from dispelling the popular myth of the average person,
and why variation from that average is what is really important, to
uncovering hidden nuances in numbers that may not be apparent at first
glance. The author describes the trade offs that are made in a
statistical world where probability precludes perfect accuracy.
Just in time for St. Patrick's Day, Dublin City FM radio is broadcasting an interview with me at 11 am GMT (7 am EST). The program is called "Europe Today". Listen live at http://dublincityfm.ie/. After the first broadcast, a podcast will be placed here.
Later, at 5 pm EST, I will be a guest on "Second Opinion Live", a ReachMD show hosted by Dr. Matt Birnholz and Dr. Michael Greenberg. We will talk about statistical thinking in health and medicine issues.
The show can be heard on XM 160 if you are a subscriber. Or listen to a live stream at ReachMD.com (you'll need to register). Or on the iPhone, they have an app called Medical Radio. They take questions from listeners, and you can call in at TRIPLE-8-M-D-1-REACH (888-631-7322).