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First of all, if you're at all familiar with Tim Harford's writing you can be assured this book is up to his usual superlative standard: informative, accessible and entertaining. It is perhaps telling that Harford's dedication is to teachers, as How to Make the World Add Up gives us the sort of text we all wish we could have learned from as students at school or college. It makes absorbing new information and incisive commentary feel like leisure-time rather than study.
But with the recent growth in mistrust of the scientific method and the numerical data it reliably generates, the book also gives us an important lesson. Through case studies and well-reasoned argument, Harford demonstrates not just that the world can be understood with the aid of numbers, but that we must be careful of our own reaction to what those numbers tell us and the context in which they are presented.
Some elements of Harford's excellent Cautionary Tales podcast appear in the pages of this book and it is all the better for that. If we misconstrue, or worse deliberately misuse, data then unintended consequences can result in the sort of damage we would most certainly prefer to avoid. How to Make the World Add Up is a warning, a lesson - and a reassuring hug - all at once.
Thought provoking insight into the world of mis-/dis-/un-information, told with a sense of fun and intrigue - leaving you with a different perspective and a drive to get ever more curious about the world.
A must for anyone who has firm views on the world - I hope you can find some balance afterwards.
The author recaps on those in history who have done well / not so well, elaborating as he goes, and creating a real sense of storytelling throughout. It makes the read even more enjoyable.
Tim Harford's writing is always strong: a seemingly effortless mix of brilliant anecdotes used to illustrate wider truths about human behaviour. He turns his hand confidently from economics to innovation to the way we consume numbers.
This book, however, has something extra. It has passion. It is an important book. It is a book for our times, a vital book. Tim H's commitment to truth and facts shines through these pages. He's not just revealing how we can be lied to - he's equipping us for modern life, providing a tool kit to cut through the lies and falsehoods which otherwise threaten to overwhelm you in social media, news and politics. Whatever your world view, this book will help you see things more clearly. It really is that good. And you'll have fun reading it too, thanks to Tim's polished storytelling and excellent selection of snippets from all over human History and behaviour.
All of Tim Harford's books are well worth reading, but this is absolutely essential for our times as it shows you how not to be duped by misinformation. Although it's about statistics, it also conveys the passion for truth and the beauty of the world of patterns and numbers.
The book is of a type - beware of your biases, put in place systems that will allow you to identify your errors and to update your predictions; understand affect, your emotions; your unconscious predeliction to rely on heuristics and your tendency to hold on to strong beliefs in the face of counterevidence. Look at the data carefully and learn to look beyond the data. Read Kahneman and try to be like the superforecasters etc..
Kahneman's writings have in fact given rise to a whole generation of financial and betting market pundits who have fooled themselves into believing that they have the capacity to develop a capability to tap into their unconscious processes and to develop better executive functions and low impulsivity in risk/reward environments than other traders; these people believe themselves to be less susceptible to biasing influences than others - as far as they are concerned mistakes in deductive and inductive reasoning (decision making deficits) happen to other people. The problem is simple, they are great at constructing models but they are no better than the next man at actually predicting the future.
The Superforecasters, to a man failed to predict Brexit and Trump - the book does not deal with this. They were "less wrong" - which means that they ascribed a probability to an event outcome and the event happened.
In nuce, one is left to conclude that Harford is capitalising upon the wave of homophily that his book sets out to castigate. Birds of a feather and all of that.
Tim Harford presents "More or Less" which investigates statistical distortions, so I was expecting this book to be the same. In fact his central point is the exact opposite, that it is easy to lie with statistics, but easier to lie without them. He will teach you how to look at statistical claims, and at yourself and your own prejudices and (hopefully) extract truth. I love his overall claim that the most important thing is curiosity - a desire to look below the surface and really understand what you are being told. Thoroughly recommended.
Great book. Thought provoking. I’ve been a regular follower of BBC Radio 4’s More or Less for some time. Losing the will to live with some statistics I have read about Coronavirus, I thought I’d try and learn a bit more about statistics. Well worth reading. I’m no instant expert now but I do think I have a better ability to spot the horse dung in what I see.
A piece of sanity and perspective in our modern world of data. Tim Harford has the pragmatic and balanced view of data and I like the data-busting stories in the book and also presented on his UK Radio 4 programme "More or Less".