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VINE VOICEon February 24, 2010
This book shows how statistical thinking works and how it's benefiting our lives. It's an easy-read book without a lot of jargon or, surprisingly, numbers. I found the book to be engaging - through the use of stories - and helpful in understanding something that otherwise could be quite dull.

"Statistical thinking is distinct from everyday thinking. It is a skill that is learned. ... many applied scientists routinely use statistical thinking on the job," the author says. Statistical thinking is also often counter-intuitive. And this was my biggest take-away from this interesting book.

Using the premise that we can learn statistical thinking and that we can apply it in everyday situations, Fung provides 10 stories to teach 5 big principles of statistical thinking:

1. Variability over Averages: Statistical average isn't the key, deviation from the average is.
2. Correlation over Cause and Effect: Cause and effect might provide rational explanation, but unexplained correlation is also useful and quicker to find.
3. Group differences over Group averages: Differences within groups are hidden by averaging groups together.
4. Errors are both positive and negative: Minimizing mistakes creates mistakes of a different kind.
5. The Impossible really is Impossible: Don't believe what is too rare to be true.

The stories are applications of these principles in things we're all interested in. Like, the shortest waiting time at Disneyland, finding the source of a deadly E. coli outbreak, financial credit scores, highway traffic meters, steroid testing in Major League Baseball, SAT test writers, lie-detector tests, uncovering a lottery scam, and the safety record of airlines.

If you liked Gladwell's The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, you'll most likely appreciate this book too.
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on March 31, 2010
It is hard not to make the comparison between "Numbers Rule Your World" and "Freakonomics". Even the book has made a reference once. Ten real life case studies are used, paired up in five chapters, to illustrate how different aspects of statistics affect our lives. Blogger statistician Kaiser Fung has made the topic surprisingly accessible, narrated in an engaging manner. Each chapter, the author picks two contrasting statistically related topics, juxtaposes them by taking turn to have the story told, and arrives at a conclusion. The narration is honest, impartially inquired from different angles. One of the author's objectives - besides convincing us that like it or not, numbers play a major role in our world today - I believe, is to expand our mind and horizon when interpreting certain situations as numbers are presented. And to appreciate what goes on behind the scene in your everyday life.

To impart the various aspects of statistical thinking upon his readers, the author uses the case studies of highway engineers versus Disney `Imagineers', epidemiologists versus credit modelers, insurers versus test developer (education), anti-doping agencies (sport) versus polygraph (lie detector), and the chances of jet crashes versus jackpots. Each case study - unlike Freakonomics - is backed up sufficiently by figures and facts. At times, I have to slow down my reading and think through the numbers, which I do greatly appreciate.

In practical term, how would reading "Numbers Rule Your World" help your work and life? For one, when you take in the news around you, you may wish to see things in a different perspective. Should you take in the reported figures on the papers as they are? Why are things or processes made that way? Some see an imminent risk, others do not. Should you follow the crowd? At the end of the book, the author has made a bold statement that if you know how to use numbers in making everyday decisions, you rule the world. While I am unsure if most of us has the ability and even access to a reliable data-set in using numbers in making decisions, this book does change the way how I see this world operates when it comes down to numbers.
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on October 8, 2010
This book is fairly well written and it presents stories about current events in which statistics play a major role. I purchased it, however, hoping to learn some statistics. I have read other math books about different concepts ranging from calculus to math history that were both entertaining and informative from a mathematical point of view (Derbyshire, Dunham, etc.). I have found this book to very lacking in this regard.

Statistics is my weakest area in math since I have never taken a course on the subject. What a student will learn in a first year statistics course, however, dwarfs what you will learn from this book. For instance, in the chapter regarding correlation versus causation, the author uses stories to highlight their differences, and explores how they are often mixed up. Having already known about this distinction, however, I picked up nothing mathematically from the chapter. Though there was no real insight into how these statistics are created.

If you know absolutely nothing about statistics, you can pick up a little from this book. For instance, in the same chapter mentioned above, the author examines how statisticians determined spinach to be the cause of the e coli outbreak from a couple of years back. It's very simple. 20% of people reported eating spinach on a regular basis, but 80% of people reported eating spinach who had been diagnosed with e coli. The chances of that happening are very slim, statistically speaking. The author does not present in any detail how this percentage is generated.

The book does shine in its reporting about current events, and that is its strongest point. It's also particularly striking how few numbers it actually uses. Apparently, this is a part of its success since so few people are actually numerate. If you are a little on the numerate side, and want to learn about how statistics are actually computed, look elsewhere. If you want to see how statistics relates to current events in general, consider this book.
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on January 1, 2012
Had freakonomics never been written I might have absolutely loved this book. But freakonomics was written, and this is in that genre but not as captivating. The information is equally good, but the stories don't draw you in as much. If you're a "layman's stats junkie", you'll like this. If you liked freakonomics, you'll like this, just not as much.
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on November 30, 2011
Bought this after looking at all of the great reviews and expecting to be enlightneted as I was after reading Freakonmics, however, this book only touched on a handful of topics, and when it did, it just repeated itself over and over. Seemed like the book was 2, maybe 3 times longer than it should/could have been. Also, the few things that he did cover (airplane crashes, steroid using cheats, state loterry chances & cheats, traffic congestion perseception and fact, etc) seemed to be very far from ruling my world.
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on January 9, 2012
The book has a very interesting topic however is just a compilation of entertaining real stories, with no scientific or technical explanation. It is very repetitive. The conclusion just summarizes each chapter, no added value. Too expensive just to know some interesting ways statistics are used.
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This is a very delightful read, full of information about how statistics plays such an important role in so many different facets of our lives.

The author, Kaiser Fung, shows through real world examples how statistics influences so many different things in our lives. He starts with the traffic on the freeways of Minnesota and the use of ramp signals. Most people thought the ramp signals actually slowed down the flow of traffic. But the engineers were able to demonstrate the ramp signals did the job they were supposed to do. He then goes into great detail to point out what is important in our commute time. It is not the overall time that frustrates people so much, it is the variable time that it could take. We are all looking for more consistent transit times.

He does the same analysis with a number of different studies ranging from the spinach recall in 2006. By the clever use of statistics, the scientists were able to find the cause of the e-coli contamination - the bagged Spanish - and pinpoint the problem to a particular farm and date. Since the problem was limited to one day's production, by the time the massive recall was announced, all the tainted spinach would have already been consumed or removed.

There are a number of other studies the book discusses:

The SAT test - the attempt to remove any race/gender bias in the test.

The credit scores - and the arguments from the consumers and the lenders and how the credit scores have contributed to the instant availability of credit which directly influences the economic growth.

The insurance underwriting in Florida, where the risk from hurricanes are much higher in the coastal areas and much lower in the inland areas. The implication is that if you lump all risk in the same pool, one group is subsidizing the other group.

One of the more interesting studies was the wait time at Disney. I never would have thought that Disney actually has someone study the wait times and work on methods to change the perception of how long they must wait. Again, it is not the actual wait time which is so important, it is the perception.

The book also discusses the problem of testing athletes for ban substance use, which airlines are safer, and how statistics was used to snare dishonest lottery retailers in Canada. He also puts into perspective the probability of being on a commercial airline that crashes.

The book makes a very interesting read. It is well written and the stories bring the practice of statistics to life. You will gain a much deeper appreciation for a number of things: the process of constructing test such as the SAT, the way credit scores are complied and used, the work involved in drug testing, and the dangers of lumping people and groups together.

There is no doubt that statistics has a major impact on our lives. This book will give you a much better understanding of the process. The book gives you a much better idea of the practical applications of statistics.
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on December 18, 2014
as an engineer who uses statistics without a lot of formal training, I appreciated the non-technical nature of the book. It would be an overstatement to call the stories "inspiring" but they do - very usefully - point out some cases where statistics made significant impacts on their organizations.

And it's easy to read. Recommended.
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on December 19, 2010
There are many books on the popular market today that contain a wealth of information on various uses of statistical analyses: how they can be used to mislead and misinform us, how they can help us make wise decisions, how they can help us in understanding the world in which we live, etc. This book's focus is mainly, but not exclusively, on how a rigorous and blind application of statistical methods can have serious repercussions on innocent people - repercussions that may not at first seem obvious. The author presents ten issues in which statistical methods have been applied; he has combined them into five pairs where members of a given pair share similar characteristics. Some of the issues presented are: traffic flow, epidemiology, property insurance, lie detection, etc. The book contains no formulas - only a few charts and diagrams.

The writing style is clear, friendly, authoritative and accessible, although some of the discussions get more complex as topics are examined more in-depth. This book should appeal to those who are interested in some of the applications of statistics and some of the possible consequences.
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on February 10, 2011
The book is a breezy (sometimes rambling) collection of stories/examples.
95% of the text focuses on the story narratives and 5% highlights principles of "statistical thinking."
It's treatment of "statistical thinking" is largely limited to: the often arbitrary nature of cut-off scores; the inevitability of and trade-off between false-positive/false-negative errors; and assessing whether outcomes are meaningful by comparing the frequency of actual outcomes with what one would expect to happen by chance alone.
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