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Uncontrolled: The Surprising Payoff of Trial-and-Error for Business, Politics, and Society Hardcover – Bargain Price, May 1, 2012


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (May 1, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 046502324X
  • ASIN: B00AZ9G6MW
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,273,850 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

David Brooks, New York Times
“[Manzi’s] tour through the history of government learning is sobering, suggesting there may be a growing policy gap. The world is changing fast, producing enormous benefits and problems. Our ability to understand these problems is slow. Social policies designed to address them usually fail and almost always produce limited results. Most problems have too many interlocking causes to be explicable through modeling. Still, things don’t have to be this bad. The first step to wisdom is admitting how little we know and constructing a trial-and-error process on the basis of our own ignorance. Inject controlled experiments throughout government. Feel your way forward. Fail less badly every day.”

Wall Street Journal
“[O]ffers much to digest…. Uncontrolled is at its most provocative…when Mr. Manzi considers the largely unmet potential of controlled experimentation to improve outcomes in social science and government policy…. A vigorous book, pulsing with ideas.”
 
Arnold Kling, National Review
“The ideas in this book are important…. This is a provocative book for people who are interested in how social science relates to public policy.”
 
Forbes
“One of Hayek’s “old truths” is that individual freedom is an indispensible means to both human flourishing and material progress and that it is threatened by misguided government bureaucracy. We are fortunate to have it restated extraordinarily well in today’s language in…Jim Manzi’s Uncontrolled…His observations offer genuinely original insights into longstanding political and social problems.”
 
Tyler Cowen, Marginal Revolution
“This is a truly stimulating book, about how methods of controlled experimentation will bring a new wave of business and social innovation.”
 
The American
“This book is one of the most powerful challenges to progressive political impulses I’ve read in a while.”
 
The New Republic
“In the first two thirds of his book, Manzi describes the historical development of the RFT [randomized field trial] and its philosophical basis, and includes a digression on the philosophy of science. The argument will be familiar to empiricists and philosophers, but it may interest a popular audience, and is well done and readable…. A more ambitious argument emerges in the last part of the book. Manzi argues that the RFT – or more precisely, the overall approach to empirical investigation that the RFT exemplifies – provides a way of thinking about public policy. This is the most imaginative and interesting part of Manzi’s book.”
 
Andrew Sullivan, The Daily Beast / The Dish
“It’s a fresh, dense and fascinating exploration of what the policy implications of a true ‘conservatism of doubt’ would mean. I hope it can jumpstart a conservative intellectual renaissance.”
 
Kirkus Reviews
“A thoroughly argued, powerful study based on principles independent of the author's own conservative-libertarian views.”
 
Library Journal
“If social scientists entrusted with informing policymakers utilize more experiments, Manzi argues, the policies they create will be more effective over the long term. Simply put, adopting a trial-and-error methodology can help businesses, policymakers, and society as a whole. Backed by numerous pertinent examples, Manzi’s arguments are convincing. Recommended for anyone interested in policymaking or in how businesses make decisions.”
 
Booklist
“This challenging book highlights the astounding advances in science and technology that have started to be used in social-program evaluations.”
 
Conor Friedersdorf, The Atlantic
“If Uncontrolled were merely a restatement of the need for epistemic humility among wonks and legislators, interest in it might be confined to the right. The book is of broader interest, and may turn out to be important, because its author makes a compelling argument for an ideologically neutral method for improving policy, one that left and right might both plausibly embrace, even as it challenges both sides to rethink some of their reflexes…. [Uncontrolled is] the rare political book that goes out of its way to raise the most powerful objections to its arguments and to point out the limits of the reform program that it recommends.”
 
Kenneth Silber, The Daily Beast
“Jim Manzi’s Uncontrolled is an intriguing investigation of the power, limits, and varieties of empirical knowledge…. [A] substantial part of Uncontrolled’s value is in its sharp thinking about how various disciplines seek reliable knowledge…. Uncontrolled offers useful advice for navigating a hard-to-know world.”
 
Arnold Kling, National Review
“The ideas in this book are important…. This is a provocative book for people who are interested in how social science relates to public policy.”

The American Conservative
“[A]s Jim Manzi persuasively argues in his insightful and well-written new book, Uncontrolled, humanity is terrible at foresight, and trial-and-error is the chief way humans develop reliable knowledge…. In Uncontrolled, Manzi provides an incisive and highly readable account of how trial-and-error experimentation in science and free markets lessens human ignorance, uproots bias, and produces progress.”

Steve Sailer, Taki’s Magazine
“In his impressive first book, Uncontrolled: The Surprising Payoff of Trial-and-Error for Business, Politics, and Society, entrepreneur/intellectual Jim Manzi has the makings of an airport best seller in the genre of Steven Levitt’s Freakonomics and Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink. Indeed, Uncontrolled is far more reliable than those two sometimes-dubious tomes…. Uncontrolled offers one of the most lucid and sensible historical overviews of the philosophy of science I’ve ever read.”

Reihan Salam, National Review Online
“[T]he most important book of 2012 (read it now so you can be ahead of the curve).”

David McKenzie, World Bank, Development Impact blog
“[I]nteresting reading…. The lesson of trial-and-error with thousands of relatively low-cost experiments designed to make marginal improvements is one that could be useful in many government bureaucracies (and indeed in our own bureaucracy).”

Gary Gutting, The New York Times, Opinionator, The Stone
“[Jim Manzi] offers a careful and informed survey of the problems of research in the social sciences.”

About the Author

Jim Manzi is the founder and chairman of Applied Predictive Technologies (APT), an applied artificial intelligence software company. Prior to that he was a vice-president at Mercer Management Consulting. He is currently a contributing editor at National Review, where he writes about science, technology, business and economics, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, and serves on a number of other corporate and non-profit boards. He has also written articles for a variety of political publications including the New York Post, the Weekly Standard, the Atlantic, and Slate. His work is regularly covered widely in the blogosphere, and his articles on why Republicans should acknowledge global warming and “Keeping America’s Edge” have become much-debated “must reads.” He lives in Paris.

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Customer Reviews

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He has a discussion of Popper and Kuhn's work in the philosophy of science.
IvanW
You can have all the good ideas and facts that you want, but if you try to shift power away from the powerful, they will tend to squelch such.
Jeff Bennett
It is well-written and well-argued, with a lot of useful and interesting material.
Aaron C. Brown

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This ambitious book takes an interdisciplinary approach to discuss: (1) the scientific method; (2) why the scientific method cannot be mindlessly applied to any discipline or subject matter; (3) how the scientific method has been frequently invoked, but not effectively applied in the social sciences; (4) the limits of applying the scientific method to develop, test and improve business practices and strategies; (5) why the development and testing of public policy cannot be done within the constraints of the scientific method; and (6) how the inability to apply the scientific method to various subjects does not preclude using non-experimental methods of analysis to study, develop, and test business practices and public policies.

The author's discussion and analysis reflect an intriguing mix of: (a) scepticism about the general applicability of scientific methods to subjects beyond traditional sciences; (b) enthusiasm for encouraging the trial-and-error use of non-experimental methods to tackle business, political, and social issues and problems not susceptible to scientific methods; (c) apparent ambivalence about how to promote a willingness to experiment, engage in trial-and-error projects, and take risks, but still maintain a realistic and humble attitude about the limits of various non-experimental methods; and (d) cautious optimism about the ability of businesses, government officials, and the general public to improve their decision-making and goal-setting efforts.

The author makes a strong and very credible presentation about the limits of the scientific method, and the limited applicability of the scientific method to matters beyond traditional science.
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22 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Loyd E. Eskildson HALL OF FAME on May 8, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Author Manzi tells us that too often we allow policies to be guided by inflexible ideology. His alternatives include software that incorporates the experimental method for guiding business decision-making, and now this book that argues the same methods could be applied to important social issues.

Much of Manzi's material within the book is taken up explaining why simply using historical data, surveys, etc. is inadequate at best, due to the substantial and unquantified impact of factors not included within the 'model.' Similarly, regarding multiple linear regression analyses, the seemingly favorite tool of everyone with access to a computer and SPSS software. (Added problems with regression analysis - the need to incorporate non-linear variables such as binary zero-one to account for the presence/absence of a specific attribute or policy; interactions, and factors better represented as exponential variables, etc.) Thus, Manzi's rationale for instead using controlled experiments.

He cites Capitol One (credit-card firm that reportedly conducts 60,000 experiments/year), Gary Loveman's management at Harrah's Entertainment, and Google's sophisticated programs for evaluating alternative ad wording, etc. Unfortunately, he failed to elaborate on how any of those three leaders have utilized randomized experimentation. 'Uncontrolled' would be stronger if he'd also pointed out that there's a danger in these approaches - simply that the firm/government entity becomes overly focused on incremental improvement instead of breakthroughs.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The best guide I have seen to the importance of experimentation in the private and public sectors from one of the pioneers in the use of experiments in a variety of settings
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By derwin on May 9, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I don't agree with everything the author says, but he has thought and researched very carefully about the scientific process in the social sciences and its flaws. Probably the best single book to articulate why scientists operate the way they do and why social scientists often fall short of that standard. For what could be dry material, interestingly written. Recommended.
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Jim Manzi tries to make a case for the use of randomized field trials as a basis for public policy making. His book starts with a good introduction to the scientific method. He has a discussion of Popper and Kuhn's work in the philosophy of science. He then moves through physics, astronomy and chemistry suggesting that theories can be developed in any way that is desired but convincing evidence for the correctness of a theory is only obtained through experimentation and replication. He suggests that in physics, astronomy and chemistry there is low causal density which makes the determination of cause and effect quite straightforward to demonstrate. He then moves to biological and medical research where causal density is substantially higher and how first pairing and then random assignment into test and control groups was found to resolve the high causal density problem and allow for a convincing determination of cause and effect. He next discusses his personal experience with business experimentation and the successes and problems with randomization field experiments. He rightly believes that with human behaviour cause and effect is very difficult to interpret. Then he moves to the social sciences which demonstrate high causal density and integrated holism. He suggests that although randomized field trials have not been used much to date, their use is increasing and should be welcomed. Finally, he extrapolates these ideas into the field of public policy. He shows how some well-known linear regression models and natural experiments have not survived the process of replication. The last part of the book discusses where he sees randomized field trials going into the future.Read more ›
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