STRENGTH IN NUMBERS

HOW POLLS WORK AND WHY WE NEED THEM

Morris makes a solid case for polls as tools to give voice to the people while allowing that improvements are needed.

A data journalist for the Economist explains his much-derided and now much-distrusted profession.

In the 2020 presidential election, a poll taken by ABC News and the Washington Post projected that Joe Biden would defeat Donald Trump in Wisconsin by a towering 17 percentage points. Ultimately, Biden’s lead was less than 1 point. How did the pollsters get it so wrong? In 2016, how did everyone who called the election for Hillary Clinton misread the signs? Morris looks deep inside the often flawed assumptions of the pollsters and efforts to overcome the mathematical flaws inherent in their surveys, from sample bias to margins of error. Before doing so, however, he defends the use of polls as an important mechanism to give voice to voters in a representative democracy. “We must understand that both the concept and the significance of public opinion took root gradually, and their development continues to this day,” he writes. When properly conducted, he adds, a poll can have the force of a referendum, given that a key assumption of democracies is that the voice of the collective is stronger than that of the individual. But how to assemble that collective to give meaningful results? As Morris notes, some of the problem lies on the side of the pollsters, who must attain samples sufficiently large and diverse to represent as many demographics as possible. Some, though, lies on the side of those being polled, who, it seems, tend not to answer truthfully, especially when they suspect that the poll is biased toward one end or another. In the 2020 election, right-leaning voters tended not to respond to polls at all, again leading to projections of a Biden landslide. Those readers with a bent for statistics will take interest in the author’s descriptions of such matters as sampling errors, the law of large numbers, and the corrective tools of smoothing and aggregation.

Morris makes a solid case for polls as tools to give voice to the people while allowing that improvements are needed.

Pub Date: July 12, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-393-86697-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: April 25, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2022

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ELON MUSK

Alternately admiring and critical, unvarnished, and a closely detailed account of a troubled innovator.

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A warts-and-all portrait of the famed techno-entrepreneur—and the warts are nearly beyond counting.

To call Elon Musk (b. 1971) “mercurial” is to undervalue the term; to call him a genius is incorrect. Instead, Musk has a gift for leveraging the genius of others in order to make things work. When they don’t, writes eminent biographer Isaacson, it’s because the notoriously headstrong Musk is so sure of himself that he charges ahead against the advice of others: “He does not like to share power.” In this sharp-edged biography, the author likens Musk to an earlier biographical subject, Steve Jobs. Given Musk’s recent political turn, born of the me-first libertarianism of the very rich, however, Henry Ford also comes to mind. What emerges clearly is that Musk, who may or may not have Asperger’s syndrome (“Empathy did not come naturally”), has nurtured several obsessions for years, apart from a passion for the letter X as both a brand and personal name. He firmly believes that “all requirements should be treated as recommendations”; that it is his destiny to make humankind a multi-planetary civilization through innovations in space travel; that government is generally an impediment and that “the thought police are gaining power”; and that “a maniacal sense of urgency” should guide his businesses. That need for speed has led to undeniable successes in beating schedules and competitors, but it has also wrought disaster: One of the most telling anecdotes in the book concerns Musk’s “demon mode” order to relocate thousands of Twitter servers from Sacramento to Portland at breakneck speed, which trashed big parts of the system for months. To judge by Isaacson’s account, that may have been by design, for Musk’s idea of creative destruction seems to mean mostly chaos.

Alternately admiring and critical, unvarnished, and a closely detailed account of a troubled innovator.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2023

ISBN: 9781982181284

Page Count: 688

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 12, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2023

BEYOND THE GENDER BINARY

From the Pocket Change Collective series

A fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change.

Artist and activist Vaid-Menon demonstrates how the normativity of the gender binary represses creativity and inflicts physical and emotional violence.

The author, whose parents emigrated from India, writes about how enforcement of the gender binary begins before birth and affects people in all stages of life, with people of color being especially vulnerable due to Western conceptions of gender as binary. Gender assignments create a narrative for how a person should behave, what they are allowed to like or wear, and how they express themself. Punishment of nonconformity leads to an inseparable link between gender and shame. Vaid-Menon challenges familiar arguments against gender nonconformity, breaking them down into four categories—dismissal, inconvenience, biology, and the slippery slope (fear of the consequences of acceptance). Headers in bold font create an accessible navigation experience from one analysis to the next. The prose maintains a conversational tone that feels as intimate and vulnerable as talking with a best friend. At the same time, the author's turns of phrase in moments of deep insight ring with precision and poetry. In one reflection, they write, “the most lethal part of the human body is not the fist; it is the eye. What people see and how people see it has everything to do with power.” While this short essay speaks honestly of pain and injustice, it concludes with encouragement and an invitation into a future that celebrates transformation.

A fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change. (writing prompt) (Nonfiction. 14-adult)

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-09465-5

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Penguin Workshop

Review Posted Online: March 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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