- Smart Thinking
”A very entertaining book about a very serious problem. We deceive ourselves all the time with statistics, and it is time we wised up."
Robert J. Shiller, winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics and author of Irrational Exuberance
Did you know that having a messy room will make you racist? Or that human beings possess the ability to postpone death until after important ceremonial occasions? Or that people live three to five years longer if they have positive initials, like ACE? All of these ‘facts’ have been argued with a straight face by researchers and backed up with reams of data and convincing statistics.
As Nobel Prize-winning economist Ronald Coase once cynically observed, ‘If you torture data long enough, it will confess.’ Lying with statistics is a time-honoured con. In Standard Deviations, economics professor Gary Smith walks us through the various tricks and traps that people use to back up their own crackpot theories. Sometimes, the unscrupulous deliberately try to mislead us. Other times, the well-intentioned are blissfully unaware of the mischief they are committing. Today, data are so plentiful that researchers spend precious little time distinguishing between good, meaningful deductions and total rubbish. Not only do others use data to fool us, we fool ourselves.
Drawing on breakthrough research in behavioural economics by luminaries like Daniel Kahneman and Dan Ariely, and taking to task some of the conclusions of Freakonomics author Steven D. Levitt, Standard Deviations demystifies the science behind statistics and brings into stark relief the fraud that surrounds us all.
"'This engaging romp...demystifies some of the science behind the stats and illuminates some worrying frauds. It is a handbook for doing statistical inference properly and a great guide for debunking others' crackpot claims. A must for anyone doing business in the new data-driven economy."
"Most of the authoritative, sciencey-sounding claims we're fed by the media are polluted by distortions, biases, and plain old errors. In Standard Deviations, Gary Smith sets the record straight via hugely engaging case studies and anecdotes. It's the most fun you can have while learning how not to be led astray by the hordes of sloppy, self-serving—if often well-meaning—data mongers."
David H. Freedman, author of Wrong: Why Experts Keep Failing Us—and How to Know When Not to Trust Them
"Humans are pattern-finding primates, but which patterns are real and which are illusory? Science is the best tool we have for answering the question, but as Gary Smith reveals in this deeply insightful skeptical analysis of the use and abuse of statistics, the numbers never just speak for themselves. His catalogue of mistakes we all make—including and especially scientists—should be memorized by every college student . . . and member of Congress."
Michael Shermer, Publisher of Skeptic magazine, Columnist for Scientific American, and author of The Believing Brain
“Gary Smith's Standard Deviations is both a statement of principles for doing statistical inference correctly and a practical guide for interpreting the (supposedly) data-based inferences other people have drawn. The book is cleverly written and engaging to read, full of concrete examples that make clear not just what Smith is saying but why it matters. Readers will discover that lots of what they thought they'd learned is wrong, and they'll understand why."
Benjamin M. Friedman, William Joseph Maier Professor of Political Economy, Harvard University
“Standard Deviations will teach you how not to be deceived by lies masquerading as statistics. Written in an entertaining style with contemporary examples, this book should appeal to everyone, whether interested in marriages or mortgages, the wealth of your family, or the health of the economy. This should be required reading for everyone living in this age of (too much?) information."
Arthur Benjamin, Professor of Mathematics, Harvey Mudd College and author of Secrets of Mental Math
"Statistical reasoning is the most used and abused form of rhetoric in the field of finance. Standard Deviations is an approachable and effective means to arm oneself against the onslaught statistical hyperbole in our modern age. Professor Smith has done us all a tremendous service."
Bryan White, Managing Director, BlackRock, Inc.
"It’s entertaining; it’s gossipy; it’s insightful; it’s destined to be a classic.”
Edward E. Leamer, Chauncey J. Medberry Professor of Management, UCLA
“Standard Deviations shows in compelling fashion why humans are so susceptible to the misuse of statistical evidence and why this matters. I know of no other book that explains important concepts such as selection bias in such an entertaining and memorable manner. "
Richard J. Murnane, Thompson Professor of Education and Society, Harvard Graduate School of Education