Four challenges, five principles
Feb 12, 2010
At one level, Numbers Rule Your World (see here) is a primer on statistical thinking. If you are reading Junk Charts, you already know its importance.
In putting together the book, I gave myself these four challenges:
- No equations
In order to make the book accessible to as many as possible, I borrowed the story-telling style of Freakonomics and The Tipping Point. This, the need to transform numbers into words, comes naturally having worked in business analytics for a long time; readers of Junk Charts will recognize how I always look for the message behind the numbers. And no equations means no equations.
- No toy problems
No Monty Hall problem, no birthday problem, no urn problems, no St. Petersburg's paradox. Not only have these topics been covered well by others, they are good for teaching but ultimately unrealistic. I want to cover statisticians who have harnessed real data to make socially important decisions, such as telling us what makes us sick, setting insurance rates, evaluating SAT questions, catching thiefs.
- Long-form stories
The book is organized around five statistical principles, with a pair of stories illuminating broad aspects of each principle. Each story is developed in rich detail, bringing out the players, the background, the numbers, the conflicts that form the process of applying science. In this way, the book's structure is different from The Tipping Point and Freakonomics, which can sometimes feel episodic.
- Contemporary examples
Nearly everything in the book occurred in the last two or so decades. Statistical thinking is evergreen. I left the standard historical examples on the cutting floor -- Fisher's tea-tasting ladies, Student's brewery experiments, Galton's regression studies, etc. (For those who enjoy history, and can read math, Stigler's two books on the history of statistics are not to be missed.)
Here are the five key principles:
1. The discontent of being averaged: Always ask about variability
2. The virtue of being wrong: Pick useful over true
3. The dilemma of being together: Compare like with like
4. The sway of being asymmetric: Heed the give-and-take of two errors
5. The power of being impossible: Don't believe what is too rare to be true
Come back for more on these, or get the book.
Book available from Amazon, B&N, Borders, and also worldwide
Looking forward to the book. It really is a great discipline that could stand to be humanized a bit.
Posted by: Eric Ast | Feb 12, 2010 at 11:03 AM
Kaiser, Are you planning to sell signed copies? Thanks!
Posted by: MChao | Feb 12, 2010 at 09:44 PM
Sounds perfect for some of the data journalism I'm teaching - have contacted McGraw Hill for an inspection copy (also hope to review it on the Online Journalism Blog).
Posted by: Paul Bradshaw | Feb 13, 2010 at 03:51 PM
I love the fact that the book isn't out yet, but Amazon associates have 2 used copies at $13.65. B&N and Borders also have "used" copies.
I've ordered the book and look forward to reading it. Good luck, Kaiser.
Posted by: zbicyclist | Feb 13, 2010 at 05:31 PM
MChao: If you happen to be in a city that I eventually visit, then I can sign your copy. If not, the best I can do is to send a signed bookplate.
Posted by: Kaiser | Feb 17, 2010 at 12:02 AM