(K. Brent Tomer),
A Field Guide to Lies and Statistics. By Daniel Levitin. Dutton; 292 pages; $28. Viking; £14.99.
PEOPLE take in five times as much information each day as they did in the mid-1980s. With all these data sloshing around it is easy to feel lost. One politician uses a statistic to back up her argument; a newspaper uses another fact to refute it; an economist uses a third to prove them both wrong. In “A Field Guide to Lies and Statistics” Daniel Levitin, an American neuroscientist, shows the reader how to find a way through all this numerical confusion.
A book about statistics can easily be boring. Fortunately, Mr Levitin is the perfect guide. Before becoming an academic he used to work as a stand-up comedian. Drawing on those skills Mr Levitin peppers his book with wisecracks. He uses the phrase “on average, humans have one testicle” to make the point that the mean can be a misleading description of a population. He goes off on interesting tangents, granting the reader some light relief from detailed analysis of sampling and probabilities. Only occasionally is his hokey style annoying.
Using plenty of…Continue reading