Saturday, 7 August 2010

I See Stripes

The Tiger That Isn't is a hugely entertaining looking in to the persuasive power of numbers.  Reducing complexity down to a single number is fraught with danger.  That this self same value can then be seized upon by politicians and others with power (and an agenda), which can then be used as a crude tool with which to heard the masses through a combination of pseudo science and, basically, fear, is reason enough to read this book:
  • Seeing a pattern of stripes in the leaves, we would run from what looks like a tiger.  There are illusions in numbers too, often just as intimidating.  This book reveals what the numbers really show, and exposes that tiger that isn't.

    Public spending, health risks, environmental disasters, who is rich, who is poor, pensions, the best and the worst schools and hospitals, immigration - life comes in numbers.  The trick to seeing through them is strikingly simple: apply something everyone has - the lesson of their own experience.
Michael Blastland and Andrew Dilnot (of BBC4's More or Less), do a superb job of cutting through the hype surrounding numbers, giving us a rough guide of how to see a number for what it is, interpret the number on a scale we can relate to, and develop a sense of its limitations.

This is book is quite similar in vein to Freakonomics, but where as the latter looked for patterns within data in an attempt to uncover the real/alternative story, The Tiger That Isn't looks at the distance between the data and the subsequent story that is spun from it. 

You don't have to be a mathematician to understand this book, just washed out with media and governmental hysteria and in need of handle on what it is that most politicians and reporters themselves don't understand.

No comments: