- Paperback: 224 pages
- Publisher: Avery Publishing Group; 1 edition (5 Jan. 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1592404855
- ISBN-13: 978-1592404858
- Product Dimensions: 13.7 x 1.5 x 20.1 cm
- Average Customer Review: 1 customer review
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,554,926 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The Numbers Game: The Commonsense Guide to Understanding Numbers in the News, in Politics, and in L Ife Paperback – 5 Jan 2010
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About the Author
Michael Blastland is a writer, broadcaster, and the creator of More or Less, the BBC Radio 4 show.
Andrew Dilnot, the former host of the show, is the principal of St. Hugh's College, Oxford, and was the director of England's Institute for Fiscal Studies.
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Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
"Uncertainty is a fact of life. Numbers, often being precise, are sometimes used as if they overcame it. A vital principle to establish is that many numbers will be uncertain, and we should not hold that against them. Even 90 percent accuracy might imply more uncertainty than you would expect. The human lesson here is that since life is not certain, and since we know this from experience, we should not expect numbers to be any different. They can clarify uncertainty, if used carefully, but they cannot beat it."
"Being fallible does not make numbers useless, and the fact that most of the positives are false positives does not mean the test is no good. It has at least narrowed the odds, even if with nothing like 90 percent certainty. Those who are positive are still unlikely to have breast cancer, but they are a little more likely than before they were tested. Those who are negative are now even less likely to have it than before they were tested. So it is not that uncertainty means absolute ignorance, nor that the numbers offer certainty, rather that they can narrow the scope of our ignorance."
"We accuse statisticians of being overly reductive and turning the world into numbers, but statisticians know well enough how approximate and fallible their numbers are. It is the rest of us who perform the worst reductionism whenever we pretend the numbers give us excessive certainty. Any journalist who acts as if the range of uncertainty does not matter, and reports only one number in place of a spread of doubt, conspires in a foolish delusion for which no self-respecting statistician would ever fall."
I hope these quotes connote a general flavor of the skepticism that Blastland and Dilnot are conveying. I found the book terrific and think everyone should read it. I would also recommend reading the books On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You're Not and Your Brain Is (Almost) Perfect: How We Make Decisions. They fall within this same general category and are equally as good.
No other modern publication comes close to both (a) highlighting the importance of understanding how numbers are used in nearly all facets of everyday life and (b) illustrating how to best understand and use numbers to your advantage in the manner Michael Blastland and Andrew Dilnot do in this essential publication.
It is rare to find a book that is so accessible to such a wide audience, yet offers such powerful, useful, and immediately applicable tools for understanding our world. Numbers permeate our lives in many ways, yet the application of statistics and numbers in general is poorly understood and can have tremendous influence on the way in which the world is viewed.
I offer my this book my strongest recommendation to all readers. Its lessons are timeless and increasingly important in our data- and information-laden societies and its presentation is widely accessible. Readers stand to benefit in real and immediate ways after taking the time to understand the messages in this book.
One of the striking "take aways" from "The Numbers Game" is the perspective it opens up for readers. It offers a powerful way to look at, and question, data and information. Put another way, this book opens a panorama for how to assess, interpret, and question data and information -- arguably a more important gift to readers than presenting facts and answers.
For me, this was a very simple book, in that I didn't gain any particular knowledge about the conceptual use of numbers in the media. I thought it was good for two purposes. One would be the examples provided. The examples do an excellent job of making the concepts more tangible for the average reader and are honestly just interesting. Two would be a reminder to read critically when it comes to numbers in the media. We all tend to learn things and then forget as time goes on and the lesson of critical reading is one example. Another positive is that this is an easy read with short accessible chapters.
I would have preferred something more robust and more technical, but that isn't this book and on its merits, it is quite good as an introduction for someone who never realized how numbers are used in the media - I specifically thought of high schoolers but, as I mentioned, a refresher for adults is always useful, particularly given the modern examples used.