Naked Statistics: Stripping the Dread from the Data

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Overview

“Brilliant, funny . . . the best math teacher you never had.”—San Francisco Chronicle
Once considered tedious, the field of statistics is rapidly evolving into a discipline Hal Varian, chief economist at Google, has actually called “sexy.” From batting averages and political polls to game shows and medical research, the real-world application of statistics continues to grow by leaps and bounds. How can we catch schools that cheat on standardized tests? How does Netflix know which movies you’ll like? What is causing the rising incidence of autism? As best-selling author Charles Wheelan shows us in Naked Statistics, the right data and a few well-chosen statistical tools can help us answer these questions and more.
For those who slept through Stats 101, this book is a lifesaver. Wheelan strips away the arcane and technical details and focuses on the underlying intuition that drives statistical analysis. He clarifies key concepts such as inference, correlation, and regression analysis, reveals how biased or careless parties can manipulate or misrepresent data, and shows us how brilliant and creative researchers are exploiting the valuable data from natural experiments to tackle thorny questions.And in Wheelan’s trademark style, there’s not a dull page in sight. You’ll encounter clever Schlitz Beer marketers leveraging basic probability, an International Sausage Festival illuminating the tenets of the central limit theorem, and a head-scratching choice from the famous game show Let’s Make a Deal—and you’ll come away with insights each time. With the wit, accessibility, and sheer fun that turned Naked Economics into a bestseller, Wheelan defies the odds yet again by bringing another essential, formerly unglamorous discipline to life.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Wheelan (Naked Economics) offers a helping hand and a humorous perspective to everyone who’s ever felt confused, lied to, or just plain lost when it comes to statistics, those handy data sets used to determine everything from batting averages and trends on Wall Street to the quality of a school and which door you should pick if you’re playing Let’s Make a Deal. The author shows how statistics like the mean and the median are used to summarize and find patterns in large collections of data, and in later chapters he consider how statistics are used to assess large-scale economic risk and to find important connections between different sets of data, like those that allow Netflix to offer reasonable movie recommendations. Throughout, Wheelan stresses how statistics “rarely a single ‘right’” answer; indeed, when deployed carelessly or deliberately misused, they can sometimes obscure the truth. Furthermore, the author reminds readers that while data can be used to help make better decisions, “even the most precise measurements or calculations should be checked against common sense.” Wheelan’s relatively mathless real world examples (he sequesters equations in appendixes) and wry style—heavily seasoned with pop culture references—make for a fun and illuminating read. Agent: Tina Bennett, William Morris Endeavor. (Jan. 7)
Raghuram Rajan
“Are you one of those who dread statistics? Fear no more. Charles Wheelan’s Naked Statistics explains the intuition behind the various statistical concepts we use in an easy and accessible way.”
Library Journal
How does Netflix decide which movies you would like? How are schools that cheat on standardized tests caught out? What are batting averages, after all, but statistics, statistics, statistics. The author of the best-selling Naked Economics engagingly explains a subject that has most of us yawning or quivering in our boots.
Kirkus Reviews
How to analyze "the numbers behind the news [and appreciate] the extraordinary (and growing) power of data" in today's market-driven economy. Wheelan (Public Policy/Dartmouth Coll.; 10½ Things No Commencement Speaker Has Ever Said, 2012 etc.) extends the scope of his 2002 best-seller, Naked Economics, to encompass the statistical know-how necessary in making informed economic and other decisions. The author provides tools to help the nonmathematical reader develop an intuitive grasp of apparently arcane topics such as the "central limit theorem," which is used to estimate likely outcomes. Using forensic medicine as an analogy, he compares a statistician to a detective gathering information at the scene of a crime. Both are frequently involved in "building a circumstantial case based on imperfect data" and are dependent on sampling techniques. Wheelan uses a seemingly high-risk marketing campaign by Schlitz beer to illustrate the point. In 1981, the company spent $1.7 million to run a blind taste test between Schlitz and Michelob, involving 100 contestants. In fact, as Wheelan shows, it was a sure winner. While the likely outcome of a random sample would be a 50/50 split, any percentage could be framed to Schlitz's advantage. The key was in the sample. Contestants were selected on the basis of their previously expressed preference for Michelob, so that even if only 30 percent chose Schlitz, the claim that Michelob drinkers chose Schlitz was still valid. The author explains how the normal distribution works and emphasizes the importance of measuring both the mean and medium in a given study. Wheelan also explains the famous brain-teasing Monty Hall problem, which has stumped experts for years. A delightful, informative guide to an often-intimidating subject.
New York Times
“While a great measure of the book’s appeal comes from Mr. Wheelan’s fluent style—a natural comedian, he is truly the Dave Barry of the coin toss set—the rest comes from his multiple real world examples illustrating exactly why even the most reluctant mathophobe is well advised to achieve a personal understanding of the statistical underpinnings of life.”
San Francisco Chronicle
“The best math teacher you never had. [Naked Statistics] is filled with practical lessons, like how to judge the validity of polls, why you should never buy a lottery ticket, and how to keep an eye out for red flags in public statements.”
Hal Varian
“Naked Statistics is an apt title. Charles Wheelan strips away the superfluous outer garments and exposes the underlying beauty of the subject in a way that everyone can appreciate.”
Frank Newport
“I cannot stress enough the importance of Americans’ need to understand statistics—the basis for a great deal of what we hear and read these days—and I cannot stress enough the value of Wheelan’s book in giving readers an approachable avenue to understanding statistics. Almost anyone interested in sports, politics, business, and the myriad of other areas in which statistics rule the roost today will benefit from this highly readable, on-target, and important book.”
Jacob J. Goldstein
“A fun, engaging book that shows why statistics is a vital tool for anyone who wants to understand the modern world.”
Austan Goolsbee
“Two phrases you don’t often see together: ‘statistics primer’ and ‘rollicking good time.’ Until Charlie Wheelan got to it, that is. This book explains the way statistical ideas can help you understand much of everyday life.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393071955
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 1/7/2013
  • Pages: 302
  • Sales rank: 202,650
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Charles Wheelan is the author of the internationally best-selling Naked Economics and Naked Statistics and a former correspondent for The Economist, and founder of The Centrist Party. He teaches public policy and economics at Dartmouth College and lives in Hanover, New Hampshire, with his family.
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Table of Contents

Introduction: Why I hated calculus but love statistics ix

Acknowledgments xvii

1 What's the Point? 1

2 Descriptive Statistics: Who was the best baseball player of all time? 15

Appendix to Chapter 2 34

3 Deceptive Description: "He's got a great personality!" and other true but grossly misleading statements 36

4 Correlation: How does Netflix know what movies I like? 58

Appendix to Chapter 4 65

5 Basic Probability: Don't buy the extended warranty on your $99 printer 68

51/2 The Monty Hall Problem 90

6 Problems with Probability: How overconfident math geeks nearly destroyed the global financial system 95

7 The Importance of Data: "Garbage in, garbage out" 110

8 The Central Limit Theorem: The Lebron James of statistics 127

9 Inference: Why my statistics professor thought I might have cheated 143

Appendix to Chapter 9 164

10 Polling: How we know that 64 percent of Americans support the death penalty (with a sampling error ± 3 percent) 169

Appendix to Chapter 10 183

11 Regression Analysis: The miracle elixir 185

Appendix to Chapter 11 208

12 Common Regression Mistakes: The mandatory warning label 212

13 Program Evaluation: Will going to Harvard change your life? 225

Conclusion: Five questions that statistics can help answer 241

Appendix: Statistical software 257

Notes 261

Index 269

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 20, 2013

    Another great book by Charles Wheelan

    I'm a stat minor in college and this book helped me understand the essential topics and methods more intuitively. I read naked economics a few semesters ago and it made me enjoy econ, so i pre-ordered naked statistics, and so far naked statistics is doing the same for statistics. Examples are funny and insightful and the principles of statistics are clear and explained so that anyone can understand them, no prior knowledge of stat needed.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 25, 2013

    Highly recommended--info you need that you'll like to read

    I heard the author, Charles Wheelan, on CHICAGO TONIGHT and could not wait to get his book. I not only learned how intuitive--or not--statistics can be, but how to determine the truth, or its lack, that they tell. He promises to make it all engaging, readable, and comprehensible, and it is. I would love to take his course at Dartmouth. I have used the book in my AP American History class, as we examine the use of statistics in election campaigns, efforts to pass laws, and attempts to redo pension systems in various states. I relied on his words to take them to new understanding of their world and mine. I have also recommended the book to our math department, as we look at Common Core standards and expectations, which include the investigation of statistics and use of statistical analysis in high school math classes. My mind was so enlivened by all of this that I bought Wheelan's other two books. They are equally wonderful.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 1, 2014

    Josh, OSU Comp Student, Spring 2014 Wheelan's naked statistics

    Josh, OSU Comp Student, Spring 2014

    Wheelan's naked statistics is a great book for anyone looking for an introduction to the subject of statistics. With that being said, I would only recommend this book to anyone who is completely new to statistics. I, myself, have already taken an introductory statistics course and the book seemed to just reiterate a lot of the same concepts that I covered in the course. However, Wheelan is not trying to make anyone a statistical expert, he is simply trying to make the concepts of statistics more intuitive to his reader. In my opinion, Wheelan succeeds in two major ways by simplifying statistics and showing their misuses. He does a great job of simplifying statistics by the way he writes the book in such a casual language throughout the book. Anyone can read naked statistics without having to worry about being bogged down by complex mathematical lingo. Also, he uses graphs as an effective way to help better understand the concepts being covered. Wheelan's second area where he greatly succeeded is in how he showed the misuses of statistics by placing correct and incorrect uses of statistics side-by-side. By doing this, Wheelan made it simple to compare each situation and evaluate where the statistical methods went wrong. While Wheelan succeeded in simplifying statistics and showing their misuses, he ultimately failed to keep my interest throughout the book. Part of this I account to the fact that I had already taken a statistics course before reading the book, but I also credit this lack of interest to weak examples. Some of the examples Wheelan uses in the book are interesting and relevant, but more often than not I found myself questioning how the examples related to real-life in any way. Overall, naked statistics is a great book and does a superb job in helping readers understand statistics, however, as stated above, I only recommend this book to anyone who has no prior statistical experience.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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