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Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Book review: ‘The Art of Statistics: Learning from Data’ by David Spiegelhalter | Books - E&T Magazine

A lesson in how to distinguish the good numbers from the bad and the ugly, reports Ben Heubl, Investigative Journalist. 

Photo: Dreamstime
For an example of how numbers can be used to mislead and lead a country into chaos, one need look no further than Vote Leave’s Brexit campaign and its notorious red bus carrying the message: “We send the EU £350 million a week; let’s fund the NHS instead”. The UK Office of National Statistics later judged that the claim was “misleading and undermined trust in official statistics,” but it nevertheless helped to muddle voter trust as part of a number-driven disinformation campaign whose consequences reverberate to this day.

With The Art of Statistics: Learning from Data (Pelican, £16.99, ISBN 9780241398630), British statistician David Spiegelhalter comes to the rescue in an attempt to head off similar ‘number abuse’ in future lobbying exercises.
Spiegelhalter, chair of the Winton Centre of Risk and Evidence Communication in the Statistical Laboratory at the University of Cambridge, aims to help non-statisticians gain trust in their own abilities to investigate data by teaching how sound statistics really works and how readers can tell the good from the bad and the ugly. His mission is to teach laypeople - especially those who may have despised statistics back in school - how to rekindle their fervour for the martial arts to analyse and communicate data...

Spiegelhalter challenges the idea that math comes first, followed much later by the computer-aided calculations that help statisticians accomplish much of the heavy lifting in analysing data. Tools that most of us have access to - a computer, free open-source software such as R, creativity and a good portion of inquisitiveness - are sufficient to go on and investigate whether rules and biases are consistently heeded...

The Art of Statistics’ addresses the reason why understanding statistics is quintessential to modern day life - because numbers rarely speak for themselves. It’s as much about how to avoid being fooled as it is about how to understand numbers.
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Source: E&T Magazine