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A Field Guide to Lies and Statistics: A Neuroscientist on How to Make Sense of a Complex World Hardcover – January 26, 2017
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In a post-truth world, Levitin's book is an invaluable primer on how to sort the fact from the fiction * Sunday Times * As a lucid guide to critical thinking about statistics, information and assertion it is profoundly welcome * Observer * The world is awash with data, but not always with accurate information. A Field Guide to Lies does a terrific job of illustrating the difference between the two with precision-and delightful good humour -- Charles Wheelan, author of 'Naked Economics' Daniel Levitin's field guide is a critical thinking primer for our shrill, data-drenched age. From the way averages befuddle to the logical fallacies that sneak by us, every page is enlightening -- Charles Duhigg, author of 'The Power of Habit' and 'Smarter, Faster, Better' A guide for those who wish to test the authenticity of information that inundates us from every corner, dark and light, of the Web * Washington Post * A Field Guide to Lies by the neuroscientist Daniel Levitin lays out the many ways in which each of us can be fooled and misled by numbers and logic, as well as the modes of critical thinking we will need to overcome this * Wall Street Journal * Smart, timely, and massively useful * Globe and Mail, Toronto * Much like Nate Silver's (New York Times bestselling!) The Signal and the Noise, Levitin's is that rare book that makes statistics both understandable and at times even intriguing * MacLean's * A valuable primer on critical thinking that convincingly illustrates the prevalence of misinformation in everyday life * Publishers Weekly * The timing could not be better...a survival manual for the post-factual error. Levitin offers a set of intellectual tools to help distinguish the real from the unreal, and often surreal ... both engaging and rewarding * Literary Review of Canada * Valuable tools for anyone willing to evaluate claims and get to the truth of the matter * Kirkus Reviews * Misinformation is a curse of the information age, and Levitin offers blow-by-blow demonstrations of how words, numbers and graphics can be manipulated to distort truth * Stanford Magazine * Just as Strunk and White taught us how to communicate better, the Field Guide to Lies is an indispensable guide to thinking better. -- Jasper Rine, Professor of Genetics, Genomics, and Development, UC Berkeley Regardless of one's political persuasion (apolitical, third party, democratic, or republican) all individuals of this nation would benefit from making the effort to read and understand the concepts presented in this book. Eminently easy to read. * Portland Book Review * Levitin talks about the crucial role of critical thinking and seeking out the truth in today's media landscape -- Michael Krasny * NPR Forum * I could not put this book down. I am so impressed with Levitin's writing style, which is clear and simple, unlike much of the murky stuff that is written by statisticians and many others. -- Morris Olitsky, former Vice President, Market Research and Analysis, Prudential Financial, Statistician, U.S.D.A. This is a wonderful book. It covers so many of the insights of science, logic, and statistics that the public needs to know, yet are sadly neglected in the education that most of us receive. -- Edward K. Cheng, Tarkington Chair of Teaching Excellence and professor of law at Vanderbilt Law School Insightful and entertaining-an excellent work -- Gregg Gascon, Biomedical Informatics, Ohio State University No book could be more timely. An important book for everyone to read. Essential to where western democracies are going -- Janice Stein, Founding Director, Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto More insights per page than any other neuroscientist I know... smart, important, exquisitely written -- Daniel Gilbert on 'The Organized Mind' Deservedly a bestseller -- Independent on 'The Organized Mind'
About the Author
Dr. Daniel J. Levitin has a PhD in Psychology, training at Stanford University Medical School and the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of the No. 1 bestseller This Is Your Brain on Music (Dutton, 2006), published in nineteen languages, and the bestsellers The World in Six Songs (Dutton, 2008) and The Organized Mind (Viking, 2014). Currently he is a James McGill Professor of Psychology, Behavioral Neuroscience and Music at McGill University in Montreal, Canada.
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Top customer reviews
I really liked the author splitting his subject in three main categories: 1) evaluating numbers; 2) evaluating words; 3) how the scientific method works. Each section covers its respective subject in a thorough and entertaining way.
Within the evaluating numbers section the author covers all the ways in which visual quantitative data (graphs) can fool you. You really have to watch very carefully the scale of the X- and Y-axes to understand if someone is trying to trick you. The author does a good job of explaining the difference between correlation and causation (and how not to confuse the two). He also warns you not to confuse what is tested as statistically significant and yet can be immaterial (small differences pop up as statistically significant that have little bearing on the outcome when you have very large samples). The author also warns against extrapolating trends especially when you go outside the boundaries of the variable values you observed within the learning sample of your data set. The author covers well the various biases and errors that can affect sampling (participation bias, reporting bias, etc.). The chapter on probabilities is excellent with a well-defined differentiation between classic probabilities, frequentist probabilities, and Bayesian probabilities.
Within the evaluating words section, the author warns about understanding the actual domain narrowness of experts. He does a good job of explaining the difference between incidence and prevalence rate. He provides a very good coverage on behavioral risk perception that is so detached from probabilistic thinking.
Within the scientific method section, the author defines the different types of reasoning (deduction, induction, abduction). He also covers logic and logic notation. He also covers in greater detail Bayesian statistics. The latter is a subject that permeates every section of the book. And, he does a good job of explaining Bayes thanks to his four- quadrant framework that is really helpful in calculating the related Bayesian statistics.
The author makes just one small error where he confuses R Square with R (correlation). R Square explains how much the variance in one variable can be explained by the other variable. Meanwhile, R simply tells you the strength and the direction of the relationship between those two variables. Also, remember R is often negative (so the explanation bit here not only is wrong but is divergent) meanwhile R Square can’t be negative by definition. This is a minor typo. I know the author knows that stuff. One math typo in a 250-page book is far better than most books on the subject.
I'd love to see this book as part of a high school curriculum, to arm the next generation with the skills they need. The primer on Bayesian thinking is worth studying and keeping.
The book may be a hard read for high school students and for many readers, particularly in its discussion of statistics and probabilities which are on a college level. But the discussion at the college level is necessary in order to validate the author’s message.
While I think it is an outstanding book, I pondered over whether or not to give it a 5 star or a 4 star rating. Because it has some shortcomings, I chose to give it a 4 stars. My principle reason is the organization of the book. In the back of the book is a section which displays all the sources for the statements made in the book. In other words, a compendium of end notes. The problem, and it is a serious problem, is that the text of the book does not reference the end notes.
This is important to those like myself, who are serious about checking the sources of the statements and data mentioned in the text. I never accept an author’s statements of fact unless I can verity the source. An example is the statement in “A Field Guide” is the statement on page 17 that “The average annual temperature in Death Valley is a comfortable 77 degrees... but that the range can kill you , with temperatures ranging from 15 degrees to 134 degrees on record.” The end note gives as its reference Wikipedia. Wikipedia is not a primary source and thus not the best source. In fact, Wikipedia does not say that. It says that the mean average temperature is 77 degrees and that was not for Death Valley as a whole but at a particular location. Moreover, the extremes of 134 degrees and 15 degrees happened in 1913 and accuracy of the 134 degree reading has been challenged. (Court, 1949: How hot is Death Valley? Geographical Review, 39, pp. 214-220). Professor Court makes a compelling case that the 134 degrees reading was erroneous and when the historical data for Death Valley is examined, the 134 degrees is not plausible.
Perhaps this is minutia because all that the author is trying to establish is that a number provided by a person does not necessarily represent the actual conditions. But the author should have been more careful in picking the example and setting forth its source, partiuclarly given the subject matter of the book.
The author states that “If something appears in Nature, the Lancet, or Cell, for example, you can be sure that it went through vigorous peer review.” (P. 144) Ergo it can be trusted. Perhaps but several articles in the Economist magazine challenge this. “How science goes wrong.” (Oct 21st 2013); “What’s wrong with Science”, challenging Nature and Cell (Dec 16th 2013). My advice is never trust any publication even if it is supposedly peer reviewed, without thoroughly checking it out. Peer review often is shoddy and sporadic and it isn’t as reliable as it is cracked up to be.
The author praises Consumer Reports as a reliable source. Not so. After 55 years as a subscriber, I cancelled my subscription because I found it very unreliable. CR’s processes are subjective to a fault. Its ratings often depend on personal tastes by the person or people doing the testing. For example, a tester gives a product a poor rating because in his or her opinion the product has a cheap finish but others might prefer the finish because it is durable and to them nice looking. Moreover, when testing a product, in most cases only one sample of the product is tested. It may the one bad sample in a thousand. I can’t count the times I bought a product that was top rated by CR which turned out to be a lemon. Nor the times I purchased a product that had an average rating that turned out to be a gem. I bought an SUV 15 years ago that CR was critical of and had also given it a low reliability rating. But I tested 16 other more highly rated SUVs and did not find any of them that met my needs better than the SUV I bought. It is the best car I have ever owned and I have had only routine maintenance problems. We have had Mercedes and Cadillacs but my wife thinks this SUV has the best ride of any car we have ever owned or tested. And we got it for far less than its higher rated rivals.
Consumers Reports reliability ratings are not scientific. The annual questionnaire is subjective and we never know if the sampling is representative of the owners participating. If one goes on line and reads he product reviews by the public, public opinion of the product is almost always at variance with the ratings given to products by CR. That is because the public isn’t just testing one sample but many samples and the public is finding the faults. CR does not have the resources to test more than one sample of a product and since CR needs to publish its results quickly before the manufacturer changes models, it cannot test a product long enough to find out how reliable the product is.
In conclusion, despite its few faults, the book is outstanding. I recommend as a read for everyone.
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I've purchased and read a number of your books (Brain on Music, Organized Mind, Field Guide), and have enjoyed them.Read more