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Tuesday, March 16, 2010


Numbers Rule Your World by Kaiser Fung - Book review

Numbers Rule Your World

The Hidden Influence of Probabilities and Statistics on Everything You Do

By: Kaiser Fung

Published: February 2010
Format: Hardcover, 224 pages
ISBN-13: 9780071626538
ISBN-10: 0071626530
Publisher : McGraw-Hill Professional

"Numbers already rule your world. And you must not be in the dark about this fact", writes professional statistician Kaiser Fung, in his engaging and endlessly fascination book Numbers Rule Your World: The Hidden Influence of Probabilities and Statistics on Everything You Do. The author shares real world applications of statistical data and thinking, and how numbers and probability have a deep and crucial impact on people's lives.

Kaiser Fung walks the reader through the mysterious, but always intriguing world of applied statistics. His stories range from dispelling the popular myth of the average person, and why variation from that average is what is really important, to uncovering hidden nuances in numbers that may not be apparent at first glance. The author describes the trade offs that are made in a statistical world where probability precludes perfect accuracy. He uses examples of lie detectors and performance enhancing drugs to demonstrate those difficult choices. Numerical measurement contains many problems, according to Kaiser Fung, but this book presents ten interrelated stories of the positive effect that mathematics plays in creating a more workable, safe, and enjoyable life for everyone.

Kaiser Fung (photo left) demonstrates how variability in results need not be explainable in rational terms. Simple correlation is often enough, as in the case of credit scores. On the other hand, the author describes how correlation is no substitute for causation in the case of a food safety issue. Averages of groups, according to the author may hide more information than they divulge. As a result, comparing smaller groups, within larger groups, with similar sub-groups will yield more useful information than the average of entire groupings. Understanding why comparing like to like is critical, helps make sense of data as seemingly disparate as SAT scores and insurance risks. The author makes clear that effective use of numbers and statistical analysis exposes many proposed solutions to problems as being ineffective, while discovering other more effective ways to solve those issues.

For me, the power of the book is how Kaiser Fung presents some advanced statistical concepts in easy to understand language. At the same time, the author guides the reader through the many applications for statistics and numbers, while demonstrating how they are often misused by many people and organizations. Kaiser Fung explodes many myths, including the idea that drug testing and lie detectors are infallible. As with all of his stories, the benefits and trade offs of applied statistics are defined clearly for the reader. He also demonstrates how the same statistical principles can be applied to many problems that appear to have nothing in common with one another. The stories, as a group, are positive ones about how numbers in general, and statistics in particular, are used every day to enhance people's lives.

I highly recommend the very accessible and reader friendly book Numbers Rule Your World: The Hidden Influence of Probabilities and Statistics on Everything You Do by Kaiser Fung, to anyone seeking a deeper understanding of the importance of statistics and numbers as tools for creating better lives for people. The examples presented in the book, to illustrate the statistical principles, are easy to understand and provide a deeper insight into how numbers play a critical role in decision making at the personal, organizational, or political levels.

Read the intriguing and always interesting book Numbers Rule Your World: The Hidden Influence of Probabilities and Statistics on Everything You Do by Kaiser Fung, and you will never look at numbers and statistics in the same way again. By applying the principles and concepts outlined in the book, you will also be able to make better and more rational decisions in your own life, and create better outcomes for you, your family, and your business.

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