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Reckoning with Risk: Learning to Live with Uncertainty [Paperback]

Gerd Gigerenzer
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
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Book Description

24 April 2003

Gerd Gigerenzer's Reckoning with Risk: Learning to Live with Uncertainty illustrates how we can learn to make sense of statistics and turn ignorance into insight.

However much we want certainty in our lives, it feels as if we live in an uncertain and dangerous world. But are we guilty of wildly exaggerating the chances of some unwanted event happening to us? Are we misled by our ignorance of the reality of risk?

Far too many of us, argues Gerd Gigerenzer, are hampered by our own innumeracy, while statistics are often presented to us in highly confusing ways. With real world examples, such as the incidence of errors in tests for breast cancer or HIV, or in DNA fingerprinting, and the manipulation of statistics for evidence in court, he shows that our difficulty in thinking about numbers can easily be overcome.

'Indispensable ... The book will change the attentive reader's way of looking at the world'
  Sunday Telegraph

'An important book ... the reader is presented with a powerful set of tools for understanding statistics ... anyone who wants to take responsibility for their own medical choices should read it'
  New Scientist

'Gigerenzer makes clear thinking easier'
  Evening Standard

'More than ever, citizens need to know how to evaluate risk ... This book should be pressed into the palms of '

Gerd Gigerenzer is Director of the Center for Adaptive Behavior and Cognition at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin and former Professor of Psychology at the University of Chicago. He has published two academic books on heuristics, Simple Heuristics That Make Us Smart and Bounded Rationality: The Adaptive Toolbox as well as a popular science book, Gut Feelings: Short Cuts to Better Decision Making.

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Reckoning with Risk: Learning to Live with Uncertainty + Gut Feelings: Short Cuts to Better Decision Making + Risk Savvy: How To Make Good Decisions
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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; New Ed edition (24 April 2003)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 0140297863
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140297867
  • Product Dimensions: 1.8 x 12.8 x 19.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 19,579 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description


"This is an important book, full of relevant examples and worrying case histories. By the end of it, the reader has been presented with a powerful set of tools for understanding statistics...anyone who wants to take responsibly for their own medical choices should read it" - New Scientist

About the Author

Gerd Gigerenzer is Director of the Centre for Adaptive Behaviour and Cognition (ABC) at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin and a former Professor of Psychology at the University of Chicago.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but a bit repetitive 20 Jun 2003
By A Customer
I picked up this book because it was short-listed for the Aventis science prize. It is an interesting book that aims to assist the reader in becoming literate in the sort of risk assessment statistics we encounter all the time e.g. 'this drug reduces your risk of heart disease over 10 years by 50%'. It focuses on understanding conditional probabilities, using natural frequencies to assess uncertainty and the difference between absolute and relative risks.
Although it does help you to understand everyday statistics of this nature better, it only appears to make about 3 points throughout the entire book. Most of the chapters just recycle the same ideas using various, mainly medical, examples. A punchy 20 page book would have been just as informative, less repetitive and thus more interesting and effective.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An essential contribution to public education 29 May 2003
I bought this book to while away time on a plane journey to the USA on holiday, and liked it so much that when I was asked to give an informal introductory Stats talk to a group of doctors in New York, I recommended it to them and worked through the example in Fig 4-2.
The book does a very good job of explaining Franklin's Law (nothing is certain except death and taxes), illustrating it with important problems like HIV tests and DNA testing. The idea that even DNA tests are not infallible will come as news to some! It also discusses cost-benefit issues in diagnostic tests and the way to explain risk in a way that is not misleading, specifically emphasising the value of ARR and NNT over RR reduction.
All in all, the book seems to me an essential contribution to public education, especially for doctors and lawyers.
Most highly recommended.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars essential reading 10 Jan 2003
This book is the perfect antidote to the mistakes of reasoning we are all prone to, when faced with uncertainty and rare events. It offers itself as a way of turning ignorance into insight, and follows through on the offer.
What if you have a positive mammogram, or test positive for HIV? Do you know how likely it is that you have actually got breast cancer, or that you are indeed HIV positive? Most of us don't have the foggiest, yet this is the sort of information we all need desperately.
There is a simplification at the heart of the book - not all statistical information can be summarised effectively using natural frequencies - and the author is not a mathematician and gives no sign that he understands that this is a simplification. But often enough natural frequencies will do the trick, and you will find no better explanation of how to think than this book.
What can I say? Everyone should read it. That means you!
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
This book takes a simple premise - that ordinary people, even scientists and doctors - are frequently confused by statistics. The author shows how it is possible to reduce this confusion by presenting the statistics in a different format. In particular, the book concentrates on medical statistics, dispelling a number of myths about the effectiveness of certain treatments and the risk of certain diseases.
In fact, the treatment of the topic is repetitive. Each chapter tends to prove the same thing, without offering any new insights. Although a few revelations about the number of incidences of some diseases (including HIV and breast cancer) are interesting, there is a risk that some readers could use these to justify taking (or not taking) treatment without really understanding the issues involved - precisely what the author is striving to avoid.
The most interesting chapter of all is the one on games, which offers potentially hours of endless fun for the reader, who can use the techniques described therein to win money off colleagues!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Insights into turning data into understanding 14 Feb 2009
This book is highly recommended for anyone who has to use numbers to communicate information or who tries to interpret numeric information to make informed judgements.

The book has as its central theme the confusion caused, intentionally or otherwise when information is presented poorly. It presents a truly startling picture of the resulting innumeracy not just within the general public but also amongst trained professionals.

Though the lessons are generic, a significant portion of the book deals with examples drawn from the world of medicine. These are used to illustrate the very simple root causes by which information is presented in ways that obscure meaning and make reasoned judgement difficult if not impossible.

These medical examples are far from obscure and deal with issues that will be of concern to many of us, such as data on HIV AIDS, Breast Cancer Screening, Prostate Cancer and use of the contraceptive pill for example.

The thrust of the book is not that information does not exist to assist judgement of risks in these areas, but that the way it is presented and communicated serves to perpetuate innumeracy amongst patient and clinician alike. This innumeracy can have dramatic consequences with inappropriate treatments being selected and patients being caused undue worry, distress or physical harm. An example is cited of a surgeon who performed breast removal operations on 90 patients who showed no sign of disease, simply based on his interpretation of the risk they faced of contracting it in the future.

The examples are not limited solely to medicine and the legal profession comes in for its share of scrutiny including DNA fingerprinting and an insightful look at how innumeracy may have contributed to the outcome of the O.J.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars ... in the early chapters of this book are very good explanations of...
I work at a University and some of the stuff in the early chapters of this book are very good explanations of risk and probability. Read more
Published 1 day ago by Mr. E. Hughes
2.0 out of 5 stars not that illuminating
I was expecting some insight - but in reality the simple message seems to be statistics can be presented in different ways depending on your brief. Read more
Published 1 month ago by P. Osborne
5.0 out of 5 stars Natural numbers help you make faster decisions!
I first stumbled across this book 5 years ago in the midst of an MSc in Health Services Research and still reference the learning pointers and puzzles therein. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Mr. ODR Moore
5.0 out of 5 stars Reckoning with Risk
This book was purchased for a family member. I have not heard of this book before, but bought it as it had been recommend to me.
Published 19 months ago by Pearl
3.0 out of 5 stars Starts very well, but later becomes too narrow in focus
This book begins as a clear and readable examination of risk, looking at the way our difficulties in assessing probability and understanding expressions of probability cause... Read more
Published 23 months ago by The Fisher Price King
5.0 out of 5 stars Fabulous
This book investigates how statistics may be misused by the medical and legal professions to mislead the public. Read more
Published on 23 Jun 2012 by Martensgirl
5.0 out of 5 stars Bayes' theorem made easy
Bayes' theorem is the mathematical equation that shows how probabilities change in the light of new evidence. Read more
Published on 8 Feb 2012 by DigiTAL
4.0 out of 5 stars Easy to read!
Good book! I haven't finished yet but the 1st 1/2 is very focused on communicating breast cancer. It is an easy to read book but a bit heavy based on the topic that the Author... Read more
Published on 21 Sep 2010 by Maria Trouli
2.0 out of 5 stars very repetitive
I bought this because it was recommended in Ben Goldacre's Bad Science as a good book on research, irrationality and mathematics. Read more
Published on 31 Jan 2009 by Russell
4.0 out of 5 stars The knack of statistics
Gerd Gigerenzer's main message is this: when it concerns statistics, better speak about frequencies than about percentages. Read more
Published on 21 Jan 2008 by Christian Jongeneel
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