- Paperback: 336 pages
- Publisher: Little, Brown & Company (July 1, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0316093297
- ISBN-13: 978-0316093293
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 52 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,557,926 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Wrong: Why Experts Keep Failing Us - and How to Know When Not to Trust Them Paperback – July 1, 2010
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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.
About the Author
David H. Freedman is a contributing editor and columnist at Inc. magazine. He is a contributor to Newsweek, and has written on science, technology, and business
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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. Below is a summary of the statements to give you an idea of how comprehensive the book is, each point is discussed in detail in the last chapter and this cements the value of the book for a researcher or those who make decisions based on research.
Characteristics of less trustworthy advice include:
- Advice that is simplistic, universal, and definitive
- Advice that is supported by only a single study, or many small or less careful ones, or animal studies.
- Advice that is groundbreaking
- Advice that is pushed by people or organizations that stands to benefit from its acceptance.
- Advice that is geared to preventing future occurrences of a prominent recent failure or crisis.
Characteristics of expert advice we should ignore:
- Advice that is mildly resonant
- Advice that is provocative
- Advice that gets a lot of positive attention
- Advice that other experts embrace
- Advice that appears in a prestigious journal
- Advice that is supported by a big, rigorous study
- Advice backed by experts that boast impressive credentials
Characteristics of more trustworthy expert advice
- Advice that does not trip other alarms
- Advice that is a negative finding
- Advice that is heavy on qualifying statements
- Advice that is candid about reputational evidence
- Advice tat provide some context for research
- Advice that provides perspective
- Advice that includes candid, blunt comments
There are to many points here to repeat in this review, but this is the most valuable part of the book and one of the reasons I am recommending the book - particularly for those who engage in research or are making decisions based on research they either commission or review.
Wrong offers a comprehensive view of different types of studies from medical, business, public policy, etc. This gives the book broad appeal and the careful reader insight into the overall modern research process.
The discussion on the wisdom of crowds (Chapter 4 - the Idiocy of Crowds) is perhaps one of the better responses to the current craze of social media. This book is definitely worth the read.
The book offers numerous examples, predominantly of medical studies, which the reader can remember hearing about. The South Korean scientist cloning human stem cells, the debate about the connection between red wine and health are among the flawed science and study Mr. Freedman uses to support his analysis.
The book is blunt and direct and the author calls out people by name and points out the weakeness of their past work.
The author gives you direct references to other skeptical scientists and people who have the job of verifying studies and assuring the quality of research. This has led me to their work, something I never would have found on my own.
This book is not for everyone and while its premise, that many scientific studies are based on poor research, biased, or just plan wrong will have popular appear, the book is not own written for the mainstream. People who do research or make decisions based on research or give advice will get the most out of this book. That is something I do and I found the book very powerful.
The book occasionally drifts into areas and alleys that seem to be more for the author's benefit than the readers. The middle chapters particularly go into detail on things that I did not find particularly interesting. This required me to work my way through chapters five, seven and eight which I found a bit heavy and indirect.
The book has a strong bias and purpose in pointing out the weaknesses and outright failures of research and the research process. The readers have to remind themselves that this is a book about an issue rather than research on the research process. If you know the bias, then you can get a lot out of this book.
I had some major problems with chapter 4 "The Idiocy of Crowds" -- a title which was apparently meant in part to ridicule James Surowiecki's fine book "The Wisdom of Crowds" (and perhaps appeal to the elitism of some readers). Criticizing another's work is fine, but Freedman employs straw man tactics in criticizing the wisdom of crowds, confusing it with the wisdom of small groups, teams and mobs, which is never what Surowiecki intended. Almost everyone, including Surowiecki, knows that there are problems with group think, cocky ignoramuses taking over team brainstorming sessions, and mob actions. I would think that Surowieki would almost certainly agree with Freedman's point that "Group successes, according to research, tend to depend on certain conditions: that a group is highly diverse, for example, and that there is little or no interaction between its members on the subject at hand. Unfortunately, these conditions rarely apply to expert crowds."
That same chapter also touches on author Nassim Nicholas Taleb's reputation as a market expert (in reading him, I never assumed that he saw himself as one). In arguing against Taleb's expert reputation, Freedman sites the "Hitchcock effect" which is interesting, because I just finished reading Taleb's "Fooled by Randomness" and he discribes the exact same scenario without giving it a name in a chapter titled "The Mysterious Letter".
The last problem I have with this book is that Freedman (or maybe his editor) shows some subtle biases of his own. When he ventures into politics, he cites only one example of the failure of expertise -- that being the failure of the Bush Administration to listen to the experts and anticipate difficulties during the Iraq war. Freedman sites what he considers to be a great documentary "No End in Sight" which was created by Charles Ferguson with collaboration by Nir Rosen (Remember him? He is the "journalist" who is today being critized for belittling and ridiculing CBS reporter Lara Logan who enduring a brutal sexual assault and beating while covering Egypt) I mean if you're going to cite only one example, why use this one? Why not use several examples from the current Administration too? No administration seems to be more in the thrall of so-called experts than this Administration. Remember how Obama said again and again that Energy Secretary Steven Chu had a Nobel Prize as if that meant he would automatically know how to stop the BP oil spill? Even Chris Matthews got sick of him saying it. Obama also ignored his experts and pursued a drilling moratorium in the Gulf which has, among other things, destroyed many jobs. Obama also talks about "Best Practices" being used to assess how and when people get treatment under Obamacare. Who decides what these "best practices" are? These are extremely important questions that will effect everyone who hasn't gotten an Obamacare waiver/exemption.
If I'm being so critical, why am I giving this book 4 stars? Because overall, it is a really good book and an extemely important one that everyone should read. It really helps you sort through the deluge of "expert opinions". Will you never be fooled? Of course not, but at least you'll know that you might be taken in every once in a while.