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on 22 June 2017
Excellent book content wise, quality of book ok
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on 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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on 1 September 2003
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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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 14 February 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. Simpson case.

The lessons for the broader business community are clear.
The book is divided in to three sections that don't just provide examples of the problem of effectively communicating data but clear simple guidance on how it can be avoided.

By dealing with topic areas that many of us will recognise the book is able to clearly illuminate the problems of innumeracy and graphically illustrate the impact this can have with lessons for our personal and business lives. It may also provide particularly valuable insights for those who face the specific health problems it uses as examples and help create understanding of the real risks faced for example by a positive breast cancer screening result.

The book also has some absurd but real examples of innumeracy lunacy, for example the Mexican government which increased road volume by simply repainting a four lane highway with six lanes - a 50% increase. The high volume of accidents this caused led to the road being reduced back to 4 lanes - a 33% reduction and the later claim that road volume had actually been increased by 17%! It also has a section of fun examples of innumeracy to help drive the point home and a chapter on teaching clear thinking.

It's an entertaining an illuminating read that should improve your ability to ask the right questions to get to the bottom of what data is really telling us.
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on 10 January 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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on 20 June 2003
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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on 21 January 2008
Gerd Gigerenzer's main message is this: when it concerns statistics, better speak about frequencies than about percentages. 'This wil happen once every week' is better intuitively understood than 'There's a 14% chance of this happening today'.

Suppose the chance of an aids test failing is one in 10.000. Suppose too, that you are among a batch of 10.000 testees, of whom one is known to have aids. If you test positive, how big is the chance of you having contracted the illness?

If you don't see the answer is 50%, better read this book quickly. It's fun to read and you'll learn a few things.
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on 11 July 2003
While I have some quibbles with the style and layout (the book essentially comes down to one point which is repeated several times), this is a book everyone should read.
Especially if you are diagnosed with breast cancer or HIV (things may not be as bad as you think). Trust me, if you read the book you'll understand this comment!
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on 29 December 2013
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. My own field of interest in UK healthcare and physical therapy poses many risk & uncertainty problems and for those wondering if this book is worth the price, try this PDF as a flavour for Gerd's writing style and knowledge on the subject.....[...]

Gerd fundamentally argues for all of us to embrace natural numbers rather than a more modern mathematical probability mindset. When we think about natural numbers we take advantage of our evolutionary heritage; it is easier to tell our patients that 2 patients in the last 3500 have developed an infection after steroid injections. Can you REALLY expect statistically illiterate people to consent to a risky procedure on a 0.07% chance of a complication? Would you accept the risk of death after a hip replacement if you knew that 1047 people died in the last 8 years against nearly 500,000 operations? Low, Medium & High Risk ratings should relate to known numbers where possible and as a clinician, I think this a critical shortfall in how we communicate with our patients. Equally concerning is the abundance of risk-averse individuals lacking this insight and effectively stifling innovation, treatment and care delivery.

There are examples aplenty in this text with fun puzzles in the appendices. Look out for his Tedx lecture in Zurich and other videos about risk & uncertainty. As a practical guide, I haven't found better and the writing style moves you from ignorance to insight and happy to accept the need to accept life's constant changes.
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on 31 January 2009
I bought this because it was recommended in Ben Goldacre's Bad Science as a good book on research, irrationality and mathematics. It's OK but there's very little content here, spread extremely thinly. The same few examples and observations are repeated ad nauseum. The section on Violent People was especially disappointing. Buy it if you're interested in the usefulness of mammograms because he goes on about that A LOT, in every chapter. Goldacre's book has much more varied content and is a much better read, at a similar price. Look it up before you buy this.
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