Wrong: Why experts* keep failing us--and how to know when not to trust them *Scientists, finance wizards, doctors, relationship gurus, celebrity CEOs, high-powered consultants, health officials and more

Overview

Our investments are devastated, obesity is epidemic, test scores are in decline, 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. And, according to acclaimed business and science writer David H. Freedman, such ...

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Wrong: Why experts* keep failing us--and how to know when not to trust them *Scientists, finance wizards, doctors, relationship gurus, celebrity CEOs, high-powered consultants, health officials and more

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Overview

Our investments are devastated, obesity is epidemic, test scores are in decline, 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. And, according to acclaimed business and science writer David H. Freedman, such 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

Publishers Weekly
Freedman (coauthor of A Perfect Mess) makes the case that scientists, finance wizards, relationship gurus, health researchers, and other supposed authorities are as likely to be wrong as right. Drawing from personal interviews with experts on experts, he leads the reader on a merry chase down the road of skepticism, uncovering conflicting solutions to how to sleep better, lose weight, avoid heart attacks, build a financial nest egg, lower cholesterol, etc. In accessible language, Freedman explains the flaws that all too easily worm their way into research, including deliberate fudging of data and downright fraud. Fellow journalists, more interested in flashy copy than accuracy, come in for their share of the blame. Google and other Internet search engines add to the problem, sending unfounded “facts” to millions of computer users. Fortunately, after pulling the rug from under the reader's feet on every imaginable topic—from the relationship of body fat to dementia, the effect of Tylenol on dogs, and how to prevent inflation, Freedman provides 11 “never-fail” rules for not being misled—but of course, he admits, he could be wrong. (June)
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)
Dwight Garner - 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."
Trevor Butterworth - 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."
Steve Weinberg - 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."
Michael Washburn - Washington Post
"Forcefully argued, focusing on the point where error shades into deceit...Wrong makes a powerful case for the prevalence of scientific ineptitude."
Amir Hafizi - 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."

From the Publisher
"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."—Dwight Garner, New York Times

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."—Trevor Butterworth, Wall Street Journal

"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."—Steve Weinberg, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

"Forcefully argued, focusing on the point where error shades into deceit...Wrong makes a powerful case for the prevalence of scientific ineptitude."

Michael Washburn, Washington Post

"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."—Amir Hafizi, The Malay Mail

"A revealing look at the fallibility of "experts," and tips on how to glean facts from the mass of published misinformation...Informative and engaging, if not groundbreaking news to more cynical readers."—Kirkus Reviews

PRAISE FOR A PERFECT MESS:

"An engaging polemic against the neat-police who hold so much sway over our lives."—The Wall Street Journal

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: 9780316023788
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • Publication date: 6/10/2010
  • Pages: 295
  • Sales rank: 1,030,976
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

David H. Freedman (www.freedman.com) is a contributing editor at Inc. Magazine. His articles on science, business and technology have appeared in The Atlantic, Newsweek, The New York Times, The Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, Science, Wired, and many other publications. His previous book (coauthored) is A Perfect Mess, about the useful role of disorder in daily life, business and science. He is also the author of books about the U.S. Marines, computer crime, and artificial intelligence. Freedman casts a critical eye on headline health news at his blog, Making Sense of Medicine.

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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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Sort by: Showing all of 9 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 12, 2010

    Interesting at times but often tedious

    Reads like a compendium of studies and expert pronouncements that we shouldn't always believe. After a while we get the point over and over - something many of us already knew. Still, it's worth reading especially for people who tend to think the experts are always right.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 20, 2010

    David Freedman Knocks it Out of the Park

    When I was alerted to the pre-order for David Freedman's new book, I had no choice but to snatch it right up. Author of so many fascinating articles that I've enjoyed in many of my regular publications (INC, Scientific American, the New York Times, Time, etc.), as well as one of my favorite non-fiction titles of the last 5 years (A Perfect Mess- it's the bible backing my crusade against my controlling, OCD, neat-freak wife and entire extended family), I was both pleased and excited to see that David had completed a project that has never been more timely or prescient.

    Our culture and economy rest within a predominating framework of 'the cult of expertise.' Claimed expertise is what differentiates those in charge, with immense direct and indirect power over so many people's lives, from the lower-level workers with a tiny fraction of their salaries and little control over powerful and fragile forces that could ruin their lives in a second's notice. Politicians who refuse to make informed, principled decisions, the financial industry's collapse, the BP oil spill, global climate change, and massive amounts of local, state, and federal government debt are only several examples of so-called expertise failing us when our country is in dire need of informed, ethical decision-making.

    Mr. Freedman delves deeply into this very pressing matter and illuminates the complex and fascinating issues in such a skilled, persistent, and clear way. This is the type of investigative project that the national discourse needed so badly, and Mr. Freedman delivers. Thank you, and thank you for such a wonderful and enlightening read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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