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Wrong: Why experts* keep failing us--and how to know when not to trust them *Scientists, finance wizards, doctors, relationship gurus, celebrity CEOs, ... consultants, health officials and more Hardcover – June 10, 2010


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Wrong: Why experts* keep failing us--and how to know when not to trust them *Scientists, finance wizards, doctors, relationship gurus, celebrity CEOs, ... consultants, health officials and more + On Writing Well, 30th Anniversary Edition: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; 1 edition (June 10, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316023787
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316023788
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.6 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #721,768 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Freedman (coauthor of A Perfect Mess) makes the case that scientists, finance wizards, relationship gurus, health researchers, and other supposed authorities are as likely to be wrong as right. Drawing from personal interviews with experts on experts, he leads the reader on a merry chase down the road of skepticism, uncovering conflicting solutions to how to sleep better, lose weight, avoid heart attacks, build a financial nest egg, lower cholesterol, etc. In accessible language, Freedman explains the flaws that all too easily worm their way into research, including deliberate fudging of data and downright fraud. Fellow journalists, more interested in flashy copy than accuracy, come in for their share of the blame. Google and other Internet search engines add to the problem, sending unfounded facts to millions of computer users. Fortunately, after pulling the rug from under the reader's feet on every imaginable topic—from the relationship of body fat to dementia, the effect of Tylenol on dogs, and how to prevent inflation, Freedman provides 11 never-fail rules for not being misled—but of course, he admits, he could be wrong. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Review

"An exposé of the multiple ways that society's so-called experts let us down, if not outright betray us. It's a chunk of spicy populist outrage, and it can be a hoot....It's news you can use."—Dwight Garner, New York Times

We are, as Mr. Freedman puts it, living in an age of "punctuated wrongness," usually misled, occasionally enlightened. His goal is a broad account of this phenomenon, how it takes shape through specific problems in measurement, how it spreads through the general idiocy of crowds, and how we might identify and avoid it. Bravo!...[Mr. Freedman] turns to the right kind of experts to articulate general principles-biostatisticians, for example, who can see deeper than the average scientist into the way the data are gathered, analyzed and screwed up...What makes Wrong so right-it being as good as any general account of the fragility of what we take as expert knowledge-is that it raises the right questions."—Trevor Butterworth, Wall Street Journal

"Mind-bending...[A] compelling case that the majority of people frequently recognized as experts...base their findings on flawed information more often than not....readers of Freedman's evidence might mitigate their unwarranted trust in the "experts" who so often offer sound bites on the morning television news-entertainment programs as well as the "experts" promoted by Oprah, Dr. Phil and others of that ilk."—Steve Weinberg, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

"Forcefully argued, focusing on the point where error shades into deceit...Wrong makes a powerful case for the prevalence of scientific ineptitude."

Michael Washburn, Washington Post

"This is by far one of the most interesting non-fiction books to have come out in recent times. David H. Freedman reveals why and how a lot-if not all-expert advice is either misleading, manipulated as to mislead, or just plain wrong. Freedman, a journalist by profession, pierces through the shell of intellectual confidence in studies-scientific or otherwise-and exposes 'expert advice', 'studies reveal' and 'survey says' as false catch-phrases designed to fool people into believing that we humans know more about the world around us than we actually do."—Amir Hafizi, The Malay Mail

"A revealing look at the fallibility of "experts," and tips on how to glean facts from the mass of published misinformation...Informative and engaging, if not groundbreaking news to more cynical readers."—Kirkus Reviews

PRAISE FOR A PERFECT MESS:

"An engaging polemic against the neat-police who hold so much sway over our lives."—The Wall Street Journal

More About the Author

David H. Freedman is a contributing editor for Inc. Magazine, and has written on science, business and technology for The Atlantic, The New York Times, The Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, Science, Wired, and many other publications. His newest book, Wrong, about why experts keep failing us, just came out in June, 2010. He last book (co-authored), was A Perfect Mess, about the useful role of disorder in daily life, business and science. He is also the author of books about the U.S. Marines, computer crime, and artificial intelligence. Freedman's blog Making Sense of Medicine takes a close, critical look at medical findings making current headlines with an eye to separating out the frequent hype. He lives near Boston.

Customer Reviews

An appendix describes how the book itself may be wrong.
Mary C. Wallan
The bad advice may look similar in these cases, but ethical wrongs spring from different problems and point to different solutions.
Ken Rider
This gives the book broad appeal and the careful reader insight into the overall modern research process.
Mark P. McDonald

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

82 of 88 people found the following review helpful By Ken Rider on July 25, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Author David Freedman is a good writer and "WRONG" is a pretty good read. The book focuses on the many ways that experts, in numerous fields, can mess us up by passing on wrong information and advice. As you might guess, Freedman's warning is to beware of experts, particularly those claiming to know it all. He even tackles the question "is this book wrong" - a smart touch, given the subject.

Where WRONG comes up a bit short is on solutions -- how to tell questionable advice from the trustworthy kind. I wondered why a book that's so good at describing the problem couldn't muster a few more creative answers toward the end.

Freedman might have made a stronger case by weaving in some of the things that experts do "right." The contrast would have better highlighted their true failures while also helping readers know when to trust expert advice and when to question it. And that's critical if you want to use the info he shares to make better choices. Instead, Freedman suggests we can't trust most experts most of the time. That's a bit misleading and not as helpful as it could be in a world where most of us rely pretty heavily on experts for a range of basic services.

The research I've seen suggests the need to be especially wary when experts weigh in on topics outside their comfort zones or where answers to problems are unknown. By contrast, experts do better than non-experts on problems that have known solutions. There are always exceptions but this makes sense in general. For example, plumbers are experts who have seen thousands of drain clogs and know how to treat. Mechanics have a wealth of experience diagnosing common car problems. And ditto for many of the common problems a family doctor encounters or a tax accountant sees. Do these experts make mistakes? Sure.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If your job requires you to make decisions based on advice or research studies, then you should read Wrong by David Freedman. The book takes a look at the state of studies and the unsettling observation that a surprising minority of studies is inaccurate, flawed or just plain wrong. The book looks at several types of studies with a concentration on the medical studies we hear so much about and so often hear conflicting advice. For example, red wine prevents heart disease when another study shows no relationship.

The book is Freedman's investigation and exploration of the reasons behind the why these studies are wrong. The book takes the reader on a systematic investigation of the forces that lead to the publication of inaccurate studies from the need to simplify study finding, the bias of publishing only positive findings, to the social pressures that suppress whistleblowers. Freedman paints a comprehensive picture of the weakeness of the scientific research, including research conducted by Nobel Laureates.

Freedman also takes a look at business research and business books which suffer from these same weaknesses and biases. He points out the structural weakness of the two major basis of business books - that today's `winners' offer immutable lessons for everyone else, or that companies need radical new approaches to address new issues. That discussion, in Chapter 6, should be required reading for every business guru and person offering advice. Readers should also go back to Clayton Christensen's HBR article Why Hard-Nosed Executives Should Care About Management Theory that was published in September 2003 to round out their understanding of business research.

Freedman provides practical advice on characteristics of different types of advice.
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32 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Sam Thayer on August 23, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The author of this book completely misses the point and perpetuates a misunderstanding that he (and journalists in general) live by. While science certainly does have its problems, the systemic problem that he points out falls almost wholly on the shoulders of journalists and reporters rather than the experts he derides.

Science doesn't claim to be right; it is a process by which incorrect answers can be discarded. Science has progresses as much as it has, and provided what it has to us, not because it is necessarily right, but because, unlike other common ways of thinking, it allows us to move on from conclusions that are clearly wrong. The scientific method was designed with precisely this understanding: that most answers that we will come up with will be wrong. Studies, those things that journalists love to cite and paraphrase, are not intended to be THE FINAL ANSWER--they are working answers, or a way of working toward an answer. Most scientists not only understand this on an abstract level, but are viscerally aware of it; it shapes their thinking (or at least it should) about every published paper they read. Scientists understand that all conclusions published in all papers are tentative, and they understand that a study is only a model or simulation of the real world and may therefore not present an outcome or conclusion that accurately represents the real world. Yes, some excited moron enamored with his own research may exaggerate the strength and meaning of his conclusions. Especially when prodded by a journalist to do so. (Although far more often the exaggeration is injected by the journalist.)But this is not how science as a whole works.
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