STANDARD DEVIATIONS

FLAWED ASSUMPTIONS, TORTURED DATA, AND OTHER WAYS TO LIE WITH STATISTICS

“We are too easily seduced by explanations for the inexplicable,” writes the author in this amusing, informative account of...

Another in the genre that began with the Darrell Huff’s 1954 best-seller, How to Lie with Statistics. If history is any guide, it will likely be ignored by those who do the lying.

In his first book for nonacademic readers, Smith (Economics/Pomona Coll.; Essential Statistics, Regression, and Econometrics, 2011, etc.) delivers an entertaining primer on his specialty, packed with figures, tables, graphs and ludicrous examples from people who know better (academics, scientists) and those who don’t (political candidates, advertisers). “We live in the age of Big Data….Sometimes these omnipresent data and magnificent computers lead to some pretty outlandish discoveries,” writes the author. We hear that children who play competitive sports are confident, so sports must build character. Selection bias makes nonsense of this if only confident children choose to play competitive sports. Enthusiasts tell us how to live to the age of 100, run a profitable business or enjoy a lasting marriage. However, all examine those who have succeeded, ignoring the losers, so survivorship bias renders their advice worthless. Few can resist the fallacious law of averages. If a coin flip turns up 10 heads in a row, the 11th flip is not more likely to be tails. If you fly regularly, the odds that your plane will crash do not increase. Good and bad luck do not even out. Chance is just chance. The Texas sharpshooter peppers the side of a barn and then draws a bull’s eye around the densest clump of holes. In other words, even honest observers find patterns in random data and can’t resist explaining them. We believe these stories if they seem reasonable and love them if they’re provocative—see Freakonomics, whose authors have admitted some mistakes.

“We are too easily seduced by explanations for the inexplicable,” writes the author in this amusing, informative account of how many arguments are backed by meaningless statistics.

Pub Date: July 3, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4683-0920-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Overlook

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2014

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THINKING, FAST AND SLOW

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

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. 3, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

THE CULTURE MAP

BREAKING THROUGH THE INVISIBLE BOUNDARIES OF GLOBAL BUSINESS

These are not hard and fast rules, but Meyer delivers important reading for those engaged in international business.

A helpful guide to working effectively with people from other cultures.

“The sad truth is that the vast majority of managers who conduct business internationally have little understanding about how culture is impacting their work,” writes Meyer, a professor at INSEAD, an international business school. Yet they face a wider array of work styles than ever before in dealing with clients, suppliers and colleagues from around the world. When is it best to speak or stay quiet? What is the role of the leader in the room? When working with foreign business people, failing to take cultural differences into account can lead to frustration, misunderstanding or worse. Based on research and her experiences teaching cross-cultural behaviors to executive students, the author examines a handful of key areas. Among others, they include communicating (Anglo-Saxons are explicit; Asians communicate implicitly, requiring listeners to read between the lines), developing a sense of trust (Brazilians do it over long lunches), and decision-making (Germans rely on consensus, Americans on one decider). In each area, the author provides a “culture map scale” that positions behaviors in more than 20 countries along a continuum, allowing readers to anticipate the preferences of individuals from a particular country: Do they like direct or indirect negative feedback? Are they rigid or flexible regarding deadlines? Do they favor verbal or written commitments? And so on. Meyer discusses managers who have faced perplexing situations, such as knowledgeable team members who fail to speak up in meetings or Indians who offer a puzzling half-shake, half-nod of the head. Cultural differences—not personality quirks—are the motivating factors behind many behavioral styles. Depending on our cultures, we understand the world in a particular way, find certain arguments persuasive or lacking merit, and consider some ways of making decisions or measuring time natural and others quite strange.

These are not hard and fast rules, but Meyer delivers important reading for those engaged in international business.

Pub Date: May 27, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-61039-250-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: April 15, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2014

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