Resources

An Above Average Number of Legs

I try to readd at least one book each year that takes me into a field where I really know very little so I can stretch my brain. Sometimes it works well (reading the Quantum Zoo a couple years ago introduced me to advanced physics in a fascinating way), sometimes not so much. This summer I read The Numbers Game by Michael Blastland. The book takes the complexities of statistics, especially those used with great tumult in fields like politics and strives to give the reader a healthy sense of skepticism and some simple tools to sort out what the numbers really mean. For example; I discovered that my daughter has an above average number of legs. She has two (as do all the rest in our family), but because there are a small percentage of people who have one or no legs the average number is just slightly less than two. Average is not the same thing as what is most typical or common. A lot of the principles here are vaguely familiar from high school math classes, but since I really didn’t pay attention back then (as my transcript can attest) it was good to learn it now. In the nonprofit world where I now spend most of ym time I regularly see statistics thrown aroudn to justify every kind of position and program. Not being naturally gifted with those kinds of figures I often get confused or just kind of glaze over. If I keep in mind the practical questions from the Numbers Game I will do a much better job of properly understanding what I see and of appropriately questioning what’s really happening. What have you read from outside your field that has been useful?