Naked Statistics: Stripping the Dread from the Data

Naked Statistics: Stripping the Dread from the Data

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by Charles Wheelan
     
 

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“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

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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)
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780393089820
Publisher:
Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
12/31/2012
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
302
Sales rank:
92,428
File size:
2 MB

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Meet the Author

Charles Wheelan is the author of several books, including the bestsellers Naked Economics and Naked Statistics. He teaches public policy at Dartmouth College and lives in Hanover with his family.

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