An ingenious tool for detecting flaws in charts, which nowadays seem mostly deliberate.

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HOW CHARTS LIE

GETTING SMARTER ABOUT VISUAL INFORMATION

As this entertaining addition demonstrates, the “how to lie with statistics” genre is alive and well.

Cairo (Chair, Visual Journalism/Univ. of Miami; The Truthful Art: Data, Charts, and Maps for Communication, 2016, etc.) points out that “charts may lie…because they display either the wrong information or too little information. However, a chart can show the right type of information and lie anyway due to poor design or labeling.” In a cheerful introductory chapter, the author explains that, while writing was invented about 5,000 years ago and charts weren’t used until the late 1700s, both are encoded forms of communication with a structure and vocabulary. Readers receive well-researched information about the makeup of a chart along with the warning that this knowledge, like rules of grammar, is necessary but not sufficient. It’s essential to pay attention. Cairo begins with a U.S. map, almost entirely red, that many claim shows the overwhelming popularity of Donald Trump in 2016. But how could that be if he received only 46 percent of the vote? The trick is that the map label shows not voters but counties with Trump majorities. Since large counties (rural) mostly voted for him and small counties (urban) didn’t, such a map is overwhelmingly red. The map, although real, is used to lie. In the generously illustrated chapters that follow, the author delivers a painless, if often uncomfortable education. On a trivial level, one must know what a chart is measuring. A chart of homeless schoolchildren in Florida reveals counties with more than 20 percent. The streets are not full of sleeping students because “homeless” is not defined as “no home” but rather as “lacking a fixed, regular nighttime residence.” There are plenty of no-brainers, sadly widely ignored, such as, “correlation is not causation.” The graph showing that cigarette smoking increases in nations with a greater life expectancy does not prove that smoking is healthy.

An ingenious tool for detecting flaws in charts, which nowadays seem mostly deliberate.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-324-00156-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2019

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Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our...

THINKING, FAST AND SLOW

A psychologist and Nobel Prize winner summarizes and synthesizes the recent decades of research on intuition and systematic thinking.

The author of several scholarly texts, Kahneman (Emeritus Psychology and Public Affairs/Princeton Univ.) now offers general readers not just the findings of psychological research but also a better understanding of how research questions arise and how scholars systematically frame and answer them. He begins with the distinction between System 1 and System 2 mental operations, the former referring to quick, automatic thought, the latter to more effortful, overt thinking. We rely heavily, writes, on System 1, resorting to the higher-energy System 2 only when we need or want to. Kahneman continually refers to System 2 as “lazy”: We don’t want to think rigorously about something. The author then explores the nuances of our two-system minds, showing how they perform in various situations. Psychological experiments have repeatedly revealed that our intuitions are generally wrong, that our assessments are based on biases and that our System 1 hates doubt and despises ambiguity. Kahneman largely avoids jargon; when he does use some (“heuristics,” for example), he argues that such terms really ought to join our everyday vocabulary. He reviews many fundamental concepts in psychology and statistics (regression to the mean, the narrative fallacy, the optimistic bias), showing how they relate to his overall concerns about how we think and why we make the decisions that we do. Some of the later chapters (dealing with risk-taking and statistics and probabilities) are denser than others (some readers may resent such demands on System 2!), but the passages that deal with the economic and political implications of the research are gripping.

Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our minds.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-374-27563-1

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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A deftly argued case for a new kind of socialism that, while sure to inspire controversy, bears widespread discussion.

CAPITAL AND IDEOLOGY

A massive investigation of economic history in the service of proposing a political order to overcome inequality.

Readers who like their political manifestoes in manageable sizes, à la Common Sense or The Communist Manifesto, may be overwhelmed by the latest from famed French economist Piketty (Top Incomes in France in the Twentieth Century: Inequality and Redistribution, 1901-1998, 2014, etc.), but it’s a significant work. The author interrogates the principal forms of economic organization over time, from slavery to “non-European trifunctional societies,” Chinese-style communism, and “hypercapitalist” orders, in order to examine relative levels of inequality and its evolution. Each system is founded on an ideology, and “every ideology, no matter how extreme it may seem in its defense of inequality, expresses a certain idea of social justice.” In the present era, at least in the U.S., that idea of social justice would seem to be only that the big ones eat the little ones, the principal justification being that the wealthiest people became rich because they are “the most enterprising, deserving, and useful.” In fact, as Piketty demonstrates, there’s more to inequality than the mere “size of the income gap.” Contrary to hypercapitalist ideology and its defenders, the playing field is not level, the market is not self-regulating, and access is not evenly distributed. Against this, Piketty arrives at a proposed system that, among other things, would redistribute wealth across societies by heavy taxation, especially of inheritances, to create a “participatory socialism” in which power is widely shared and trade across nations is truly free. The word “socialism,” he allows, is a kind of Pandora’s box that can scare people off—and, he further acknowledges, “the Russian and Czech oligarchs who buy athletic teams and newspapers may not be the most savory characters, but the Soviet system was a nightmare and had to go.” Yet so, too, writes the author, is a capitalism that rewards so few at the expense of so many.

A deftly argued case for a new kind of socialism that, while sure to inspire controversy, bears widespread discussion.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-674-98082-2

Page Count: 976

Publisher: Belknap/Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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