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Wrong: Why Experts Keep Failing Us and How to Know When Not to Trust Them

Overview

Our investmeents are devastated, obesity is epidemic, blue-chip companies circle the drain, and popular medications turn out to be ineffective and even dangerous. What happened? Didn't we listen to the scientists, economists, and other experts who promised us that if we followed their advice all would be well? Actually, those experts are a big reason we're in this mess. Their expert counsel usually turns out to be wrong-often wildly so. Wrong reveals the dangerously distorted ways experts come up with their ...

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Overview

Our investmeents are devastated, obesity is epidemic, blue-chip companies circle the drain, and popular medications turn out to be ineffective and even dangerous. What happened? Didn't we listen to the scientists, economists, and other experts who promised us that if we followed their advice all would be well? Actually, those experts are a big reason we're in this mess. Their expert counsel usually turns out to be wrong-often wildly so. Wrong reveals the dangerously distorted ways experts come up with their advice and why the most heavily flawed conclusions end up getting the most attention-all the more so in the online era. But there's hope: Wrong spells out the means by which every individual and organization can do a better job of unearthing the crucial bits of right within a vast avalanche of misleading pronouncements.

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Editorial Reviews

Michael Washburn
Wrong makes a powerful case for the prevalence of scientific ineptitude.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Freedman explores how people are so quick to accept expert advice and why it so often steers them off course, whether it's on the economy, the environment, diet. He breaks down how information is gathered and how probabilities are marketed as "truths." The nuanced text is in good hands with George K. Wilson, a seasoned narrator of nonfiction audiobooks. His deep and congenial voice allows listeners to easily enjoy his performance and understand the material. His cadence and emphasis also help listeners through sometimes rather technical passages that a less experienced narrator might not be able to communicate as effectively. A Little, Brown hardcover (Reviews, Apr. 5). (June)
From the Publisher
"It's a chunk of spicy populist outrage, and it can be a hoot to watch Mr. Freedman's reading glasses steam up as he, like Big Daddy in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, sniffs mendacity around the plantation." —-The New York Times
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
"Mind-bending...[A] compelling case that the majority of people frequently recognized as experts...base their findings on flawed information more often than not....readers of Freedman's evidence might mitigate their unwarranted trust in the "experts" who so often offer sound bites on the morning television news-entertainment programs as well as the "experts" promoted by Oprah, Dr. Phil and others of that ilk."
Washington Post
"Forcefully argued, focusing on the point where error shades into deceit...Wrong makes a powerful case for the prevalence of scientific ineptitude."
New York Times
"An exposé of the multiple ways that society's so-called experts let us down, if not outright betray us. It's a chunk of spicy populist outrage, and it can be a hoot....It's news you can use."
Wall Street Journal
We are, as Mr. Freedman puts it, living in an age of "punctuated wrongness," usually misled, occasionally enlightened. His goal is a broad account of this phenomenon, how it takes shape through specific problems in measurement, how it spreads through the general idiocy of crowds, and how we might identify and avoid it. Bravo!...[Mr. Freedman] turns to the right kind of experts to articulate general principles-biostatisticians, for example, who can see deeper than the average scientist into the way the data are gathered, analyzed and screwed up...What makes Wrong so right-it being as good as any general account of the fragility of what we take as expert knowledge-is that it raises the right questions."
The Malay Mail
"This is by far one of the most interesting non-fiction books to have come out in recent times. David H. Freedman reveals why and how a lot-if not all-expert advice is either misleading, manipulated as to mislead, or just plain wrong. Freedman, a journalist by profession, pierces through the shell of intellectual confidence in studies-scientific or otherwise-and exposes 'expert advice', 'studies reveal' and 'survey says' as false catch-phrases designed to fool people into believing that we humans know more about the world around us than we actually do."
The Wall Street Journal

PRAISE FOR A PERFECT MESS:

"An engaging polemic against the neat-police who hold so much sway over our lives."

Amir Hafizi
This is by far one of the most interesting non-fiction books to have come out in recent times. David H. Freedman reveals why and how a lot-if not all-expert advice is either misleading, manipulated as to mislead, or just plain wrong. Freedman, a journalist by profession, pierces through the shell of intellectual confidence in studies-scientific or otherwise-and exposes 'expert advice', 'studies reveal' and 'survey says' as false catch-phrases designed to fool people into believing that we humans know more about the world around us than we actually do.
The Malay Mail
Dwight Garner
An exposé of the multiple ways that society's so-called experts let us down, if not outright betray us. It's a chunk of spicy populist outrage, and it can be a hoot....It's news you can use.
New York Times
Trevor Butterworth
We are, as Mr. Freedman puts it, living in an age of "punctuated wrongness," usually misled, occasionally enlightened. His goal is a broad account of this phenomenon, how it takes shape through specific problems in measurement, how it spreads through the general idiocy of crowds, and how we might identify and avoid it. Bravo!...[Mr. Freedman] turns to the right kind of experts to articulate general principles-biostatisticians, for example, who can see deeper than the average scientist into the way the data are gathered, analyzed and screwed up...What makes Wrong so right-it being as good as any general account of the fragility of what we take as expert knowledge-is that it raises the right questions.
Wall Street Journal
Steve Weinberg
Mind-bending...[A] compelling case that the majority of people frequently recognized as experts...base their findings on flawed information more often than not....readers of Freedman's evidence might mitigate their unwarranted trust in the "experts" who so often offer sound bites on the morning television news-entertainment programs as well as the "experts" promoted by Oprah, Dr. Phil and others of that ilk.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Kirkus Reviews
A revealing look at the fallibility of "experts," and tips on how to glean facts from the mass of published misinformation. Science and business journalist Freedman (Corps Business: The 30 Management Principles of the U.S. Marines, 2000, etc.) begins with the assertion that, statistically, as many as two-thirds of all published studies may be wrong. Medicine, business, economics, social science-no matter the source, area of discipline or director, almost every study is subject to the same variety of factors that contribute to a high percentage of inaccuracy. These include lack of oversight, careless data entry and other forms of human error, as well as more corrupt factors like bias, pandering to a certain audience, manipulating data to achieve a desired outcome, suppressing mistakes to retain funding or earn tenure and industry influence. In addition, the media can distort information, as journals are more interested in publishing new and positive study results to move newsstand copies, and reporters are reluctant to fact-check scientists. The Internet exacerbates error by making information readily accessible, but not necessarily filtered by its reliability and the proliferation of "informal experts" online only blurs the line between fact and presumption. The result is an environment in which many studies get attention, making it difficult for the average information consumer to tell which studies are accurate and which aren't-especially when many studies on the same topic contradict each other. More dangerously, Freedman points out that medical research, especially on prescription drugs, is based on animal testing that often produces misleading or outright harmful results. Even randomized controlled trials, considered to be the "gold standard" of clinical studies, often yield wrong information. So what can we believe? The author includes "simple never-fail rules for not being misled by experts," "characteristics of expert advice we should ignore," etc., to help guide readers toward right information. In good humor, he also includes an appendix detailing "the ways this entire book might be wrong."Informative and engaging, if not groundbreaking news to more cynical readers. Agent: Rick Balkin/The Balkin Agency
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781400116591
  • Publisher: Tantor Media, Inc.
  • Publication date: 6/10/2010
  • Format: CD
  • Edition description: Unabridged, 9 CDs, 10.5 hrs
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 6.50 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

David H. Freedman is a business and science journalist who has written for the Atlantic Monthly, Newsweek, and Wired, among other publications. He is the author of Brainmakers, Corps Business, and At Large, and coauthor, with Eric Abrahamson, of A Perfect Mess. George K. Wilson has narrated over one hundred fiction and nonfiction audiobook titles, from Thomas L. Friedman to Thomas Pynchon, and has won several AudioFile Earphones Awards. He spent ten years in broadcast news, including for the American Forces Radio and Television Service and for rock radio in San Diego and Los Angeles. An American Academy of Dramatic Arts, West, graduate, his acting career includes stage, film, television, commercials, improvisational comedy, and stand-up. George has written and performed in over five hundred nationally syndicated short news satire features for public radio and NPR and has received a national Corporation for Public Broadcasting Gold Award for Best Public Service Program. He has also scripted and hosted corporate videos for Sony, Merck, IBM, and Price Waterhouse. He is currently working on a suspense short story collection and a thriller novel.

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Table of Contents

Introduction 3

1 Some Expert Observations 14

2 The Trouble with Scientists, Part 1 37

3 The Certainty Principle 68

4 The Idiocy of Crowds 87

5 The Trouble with Scientists, Part 2 104

6 Experts and Organizations 125

7 Experts and the Media 146

8 The Internet and the Technology of Expertise 168

9 Eleven Simple Never-Fail Rules for Not Being Misled By Experts 203

Appendix 1: A Tiny Sampling of Expert Wrongness, Conflict, and Confusion 231

Appendix 2: The Evolution of Expertise 239

Appendix 3: A Brief Sampling of Contemporary, High-Powered, Apparent Scientific Fraud 255

Appendix 4: Is This Book Wrong? 258

Acknowledgments 269

Source Notes 271

Index 285

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