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Picturing the Uncertain World: How to Understand, Communicate, and Control Uncertainty through Graphical Display Hardcover – April 26, 2009

ISBN-13: 978-0691137599 ISBN-10: 0691137595 Edition: First Edition

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 264 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; First Edition edition (April 26, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691137595
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691137599
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 7.1 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,251,631 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"In Picturing the Uncertain World, Howard Wainer approaches this problem through stories, and every one is a gem. This is territory that has long been dominated by the books of Edward Tufte . . . but Wainer's approach is refreshingly different. He has himself been involved in many policy debates and understands well that the same information can be interpreted in a variety of ways to support widely divergent positions. . . . Like two of Wainer's earlier books . . . this one makes for very fine reading and would be an excellent text for a general-education seminar."--Michael Goodchild, American Scientist

"As enjoyable to read as it is enlightening, [Picturing the Uncertain World] includes far more than its title indicates. Throughout, Wainer illuminates many of the big ideas of statistics in ways that help the reader understand and value the ideas. He provides contrasting graphical forms to demonstrate good data displays and incorporates analogies to help readers understand why certain logical arguments are flawed. . . . Anyone would enjoy reading this book."--Mathematics Teacher

"This is a very well-written book with subtle analyses and a refreshing approach to the field of statistics. For information designers the book offers ideal access to the science of uncertainty. Moreover . . . Wainer has succeeded in linking together two disciplines: statistical thinking and visual communication."--Wibke Weber, Information Design Journal

"Howard Wainer's book of the science of uncertainty (his label for the science of statistics), and how to recognize and manage it, is a combination of breezy, clever writing and unique visual examples with tutorials to clarify the technical aspects. It belongs on graphic artist's bookshelves."--Peter F. Eder, World Future Review

"Even an experienced statistician will find valuable insights in this book of careful thought, clear exposition, and fine visualization."--Mathematics Magazine

From the Inside Flap

"Wainer's book is a delight to read. Readers will come away with a clear understanding of how uncertainty, properly measured, can help us make decisions and can provide a skeptical aura about the facts behind those decisions. Wainer's examples show how statistical reasoning is needed to make sense of what our observations tell us. This book offers insights beyond what is usually taught in statistics courses."--David Salsburg, author of The Lady Tasting Tea: How Statistics Revolutionized Science in the Twentieth Century

"An entertaining and thought-provoking book. From displaying the Medicare drug benefit and trends in test scores and school spending, to unraveling Freedle's folly, Howard Wainer tells story after story about the understanding and display of variation."--Andrew Gelman, author of Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State

"Feel like you're drowning in data? Howard Wainer is an enthusiastic advocate for graphs and statistics' ability to clarify complexity. His essays illustrate how to exploit the possibilities--and avoid the pitfalls--in presenting information so that it is actually informative."--Joel Best, author of Stat-Spotting: A Field Guide to Identifying Dubious Data

"This book offers lessons on the effective presentation of numbers and how to avoid common mistakes in interpreting statistical information. At a time when statisticians are in an arms race to develop ever more complex and impenetrable statistical formulations, Wainer teaches that the purpose of statistics is to make the complex simple. He is one of the few recognized authorities on the presentation of numerical evidence."--Gary M. Klass, author of Just Plain Data Analysis

"It was a real joy to read Wainer's book. Its great strengths are the interesting examples, the insightful and instructive analysis, and the entertaining writing. There is much to be learned here, and Wainer does a superb job of bringing out the general principles. This is an important book. It clearly demonstrates the value of statistical thinking."--Karl W. Broman, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on June 7, 2009
Format: Hardcover
One can argue that the financial turmoil of 2008 resulted from poor decision making in the face of uncertainty. Howard Wainer is a leader in applying a more visual intuitive approach to such issues. His explanation of well meaning but statistically challenged public programs, which have wasted billions of dollars will make you want to throw stuff. This book should be required reading by people entrusted to make policy. I learned a lot from it.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By I Teach Typing on October 31, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is filled with superb graphics and insights into the study of variability and the graphical methods that can be used to summarize data. It is written in many short chapters, each of which is based on one of the authors famous papers, that can be easily digested in about 5 or 10 minutes. While a few places Wainer goes off on brief tangents about the math (that distract from the flow and are hard to follow because the lack of detail) the book flows remarkably well especially given its fractured origins.

The graphics (especially the color plates) are a well rendered collection of great historical value. Graphics by Playfair, Florence Nightingale, Galton, Minard and people tracking deaths in Nazi occupied Lithuania are all talked about in detail. Beyond the art, some of the strong points of the book include: insights into what goes wrong when people do not study variability, the dissection of good and bad graphics to point out what makes a good graphic good, and a great discussion about the graphics of changes over time and how easy it is to misinterpret them.

The down side of the book is that many of the graphics can be rendered fairly easily with modern analytic software (like SAS, S-Plus or R) but the author does not give links for the novice. If you want to combine this with a book that discusses how to make good scientific graphics (like the examples in this book) take a look at the masterpieces by Cleveland Visualizing Data and/or The Elements of Graphing Data.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Samuel J. Palmer on May 23, 2009
Format: Hardcover
From the moment you pick this book up, you will be entertained and enlightened in roughly equal measure. Wainer's writing will be clear to readers of any background, and he elucidates his subject matter with wit and poise. His insights into the tools we use to understand our world are frequently profound, but come clothed in modest good humor. In this book Wainer does for graphics what Feynman did for physics in his "Six Easy Pieces."
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Gaetan Lion on February 4, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This thought provoking book is a reasonably good follow up to Edward Tufte's remarkable work (The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, 2nd edition). Wainer acknowledges that Edward Tufte is among the triumvirate of key contemporary contributors to the understanding of graphic display. Within chapter 11, Wainer reiterates Tufte's main principles of good graphics (don't use an artificial 3d dimension when you are dealing with 2 dimensional data, don't use legends, name variables directly on the graph, etc...). He also refers to the same body of standard setting 19th century graphs from William Playfair, Francis Galton, Florence Nightingale, and Charles Joseph Minard's famous graph of Napoleon's tragic Russian campaign in 1812 (deemed the best graph of all times). He shows those graphs in the book's mid section. He also lauds all these luminaries in Part V: History and then especially Charles Minard in his own chapter 19.

Wainer's favorite subject is studying and graphing the variability in data as captured by the standard error. Chapter 1 on the hazard of ignoring the larger standard error inherent in smaller samples is excellent. When you look at the average performance of schools or the average crime rate of cities invariably you will find smaller entities at both the top and bottom of such rankings. And, people invariably focus on just one of the extremes and derive the the conclusions they want (not the right ones): smaller schools are higher performers and smaller towns have lower crime rate. They don't. They just have a greater distribution of outcomes (associated with a larger standard error with small samples).
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More About the Author

Dr. Wainer received his Ph. D. from Princeton University in 1968. After serving on the faculty of the University of Chicago, a period at the Bureau of Social Science Research during the Carter Administration, and 21 years as Principal Research Scientist in the Research Statistics Group at Educational Testing Service, he is now Distinguished Research Scientist at the National Board of Medical Examiners and Emeritus Professor (adjunct) of Statistics at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

Dr. Wainer has a long-standing interest in the use of graphical methods for data analysis and communication, robust statistical methodology, and the development and application of generalizations of item response theory. His work on testlet response theory has combined all three. His book , Uneducated Guesses, (Princeton University Press) was published in September 2011, his 19th book, with Lawrence Hubert, A Statistical Guide for the Ethically Perplexed (Chapman & Hall), appeared in August, 2012. His 20th, Medical Illuminations (Oxford University Press) appeared in October of 2013. His latest book, ‪ Defeating Deception: Escaping the Shackles of Truthiness by learning to think like a Data Scientist will be published in 2016 by Cambridge University Press.

Dr. Wainer was elected a Fellow in the American Statistical Association in 1985 and a Fellow of the American Educational Research Association in 2009. He was awarded the Educational Testing Service's Senior Scientist Award in 1990 and selected for the Lady Davis Prize and was named the Schonbrun Visiting Professor at the Hebrew University in 1992. He received the 2006 National Council on Measurement in Education Award for Scientific Contribution to a Field of Educational Measurement for his development of Testlet Response Theory and given NCME's career achievement award in 2007, and he received the Samuel J. Messick Award for Distinguished Scientific Contributions Award from Division 5 of the American Psychological Association in 2009 and was included in Who's Who in America, 2009 - 2015 and Who's Who in the World, 2010-2015. In 2013 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Psychometric Society.

He was the editor of the Journal of Educational and Behavioral Statistics from 2002 until 2004 and was on the editorial board of Psychological Methods and is a former Associate Editor of the Journal of the American Statistical Association, and Applied Psychological Measurement as well as a former Treasurer of the Psychometric Society. Since 1990 he has written a popular column on data visualization in the statistics magazine Chance.