Numbers Game: The Commonsense Guide to Understanding Numbers in the News,in Politics, and in Lifeby Michael Blastland
Pub. Date: 01/05/2010
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Numbers saturate the news, politics, and life. For good or ill, they are today's preeminent public language-and those who speak it rule. Journalist Michael Blastland and internationally known economist Andrew Dilnot delight, entertain, and convert math-phobes by showing us how everyday experiences make sense of numbers. Their premise is a simple one. The average… See more details below
Numbers saturate the news, politics, and life. For good or ill, they are today's preeminent public language-and those who speak it rule. Journalist Michael Blastland and internationally known economist Andrew Dilnot delight, entertain, and convert math-phobes by showing us how everyday experiences make sense of numbers. Their premise is a simple one. The average person can use basic knowledge and common sense to put the never-ending onslaught of facts and figures in their proper place.
If you have ever wondered what "average" really means, whether the scare stories about cancer risk should convince you to change your behavior, or whether a story you read in the paper is biased (and how), you need this book.
Wherever numbers are used, or abused, there are simple tricks and techniques to cut through the bad and turn the good to our advantage. With a wealth of examples, from tax and spending, crime and climate, to the duration of a pregnancy or counting fish, you'll be amused, inspired, and empowered.
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Table of Contents
1 Counting: Use Strawberry Jam 1
2 Size: It's Personal 12
3 Chance: The Tiger That Isn't 31
4 Up and Down: A Man and His Dog 41
5 Averages: The White Rainbow
6 Performance: The Whole Elephant 78
7 Risk: Bring Home the Bacon 96
8 Sampling: Drinking from a Fire Hose 111
9 Data: Know the Unknowns 132
10 Shock Figures: Wayward Tee Shots 150
11 Comparison: Mind the Gap 161
12 Causation: Think Twice 182
Last Word 193
Further Reading 199
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I read the British version of this book ("The Tiger That Isn't"); this version has been refitted to make it more intelligible for American audiences. Setting aside the implied slight (Americans can't understand numbers unless they are written in dollars and baseball stats?), the original version of this book was a wonderful, accessible review of basic statistical analysis using real life data to illuminate each point. Assuming all they've changed for the US edition are the examples, you will find it a good reminder to constantly question the number-based claims that are so casually thrown about in the media and politics. People who wish to make more intelligent judgments about policies and alarmist stories would benefit from this read.