Super Crunchers: Why Thinking-by-Numbers Is the New Way to Be Smart
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Super Crunchers: Why Thinking-by-Numbers Is the New Way to Be Smart

3.65 of 5 stars 3.65  ·  rating details  ·  3,130 ratings  ·  300 reviews
Why would a casino try and stop you from losing? How can a mathematical formula find your future spouse? Would you know if a statistical analysis blackballed you from a job you wanted?

Today, number crunching affects your life in ways you might never imagine. In this lively and groundbreaking new book, economist Ian Ayres shows how today's best and brightest organizations...more
Kindle Edition, 272 pages
Published August 27th 2007 by Bantam (first published January 1st 2007)
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Garrett Burnett
Be prepared to encounter the words "supercrunch" (used as any part of speech) and "nano-" (used indiscriminately as a prefix) approximately one billion times in a mere 272 pages. Dr. Ayres wants to write the next Freakonomics , and makes his professional association with Steven Levitt known frequently. What comes out is a repetitive book on applied mathematics fleshed out with anecdotes and descriptions of research. It's okay, but nothing groundbreaking.

According to Ayres, supercrunching involve...more
Racquel
The helpful prompt from an online grocery-shopping site, “Do you really want to buy twelve lemons,” was the phrase that left me feeling troubled; it seemed to encapsulate not just the fears about loss of privacy, but concerns about our perceptions of the “norm,” the classification of humanity into categories, the paternalization of everyday decision-making, and, oh yes, a very personal dislike of being just like everyone else.

While my inner merchant delights at the knowledge that huge data-masse...more
Dolly
Sep 06, 2013 Dolly rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: nonfiction fans
Shelves: 2013, nonfiction, science, math
Fascinating look at the role of statistics and data sets today. Although the book was first published in 2007, the information still seems to be very relevant and up-to-date.

I loved the quiz on p. 113 that tested a person's ability to make unbiased estimates. It's shocking how inaccurate and overconfident I was with my own estimates.

Overall, I thought this was a well-written and researched book that really opens my eyes to the predictability of our world based on statistical data regression. It'...more
Trevor
The best of this one is his discussion of the 100,000 lives campaign (http://www.ihi.org/IHI/Programs/Campa...) which I didn’t really know about until Jim put me onto this book. A previous book I had read said that hospitals were trying to do something to improve their safety record in line with that of airlines, but the previous book didn’t mention this campaign as what was being proposed. I particularly like their slogan, ‘Some is not a number, soon is not a time’. The discussion of this campa...more
Cheryl in CC NV
Read Dolly's review, too: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

I've noticed a theme in my reading lately. I'm apparently getting fed up with learning just how poorly our intuitions work (Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain, Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions, etc.) and am looking for ideas about how to overcome those fallibilities. So I read a couple of books by Dr. Nortin M. Hadler and learned about how much medicine & health care rely on bad science....more
Parker
I picked this book up because Lessig called it "the most important book I've read in as long as I can remember". That's some high praise. Indeed, the thesis of this book is an important one to take to heart when thinking about the world today and in the future, but to my mind the book falls short of being an excellent defense of that thesis.

Ayres uses the words "Super Crunching" (over and over) to refer to the act of analyzing large data sets to make evidence-based conclusions about things that...more
Sean Liddle
I work in the Analytics field and am becoming more involved in prediction and predictive models so it was a genunine pleasure when I first picked up Supercrunchers. I actually read a preview of this book on iBooks on my iPhone at lunchtime which is what got me hooked and convinced me to buy the whole book. Looking back on it, I would still buy it however not with the same enthusiasm as iBooks led me to believe.

The first few chapters are what hooked me. They are filled with examples of real-world...more
Kelly
Apr 02, 2010 Kelly rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who want to be in the know about cutting-edge data analysis techniques and uses
This was quite an interesting book about the field of data mining, from a very applications perspective. In other words, it was not technical at all. Ayres explained a few mathematical concepts that are fundamental to "number crunching", but he did so in a simple and non-intimidating way. The book was clearly written not for scientists or engineers, but for social scientists and businesspeople who would benefit from doing extensive analysis of their data. Ayres is actually quite passionate about...more
Andy
This book was trying to be another Freakanomics...it definitely missed its mark.

The four interesting things I found in it:

1. The author went over a study done on Greyhound racing, experts vs. a computer model for predicting the winner. All the experts lost and the computer model make a 25% profit. My question: this is a freaking money machine! Why would you ever publish this study? Why not just capitalize on it? Something fishy was definitely going on.

2. All the way at the end of the book he goe...more
Grumpus
I have a problem. My name is Mike and I’m a Super Cruncher (all: Hi, Mike!).

I have a near compulsion to look for trends in everything with the goal of forecasting future outcomes. I study patterns looking to predict what will happen next. I loved Mario Livio’s book, The Golden Ratio: The Story of PHI, the World's Most Astonishing Number, am fascinated by the Fibonacci sequence and the study of probabilities. I guess I’m a manqué statistician at heart.

Although I enjoyed this book, I did have hi...more
MsSmartiePants ...like the candy...
What a book! Shockingly good! I heard about this book while listening to The World is Flat by Thomas Freidman. Immediately, I made a mental note to find and read this book about the impact of computing power on everyday lives. Algorithms, formulas, yikes! (I have a bit of a math phobia.) Thank goodness this book breaks down complex ideas into understandable and applicable explanations.
A wide variety of stories about how the computer is enabling huge changes in our schools, businesses, purchases...more
Jon
While a lot of this book was stuff that I was somewhat familiar with (e.g., A/B and multivariate testing) there was enough new materials and insights in here to make this a highly-recommended read. We're moving more and more into a data-driven culture and the people who understand that will be at a big advantage over those who don't. In other words, avoid reading Super Crunchers at your own peril. :)
Matt
Following in the footsteps of Steven Levitt's Freakonomics (mentioned several times), Ian Ayres is a world-class economist who seeks to use statistical principles to simplify our crazy world. In example after example, traditional "experts" are beaten handily by simple statistical formulas, mostly regressions. He touts the strengths of randomized testing and regressions again and again, to a point where it becomes tiresome. To his credit, though, Ayres also acknowledges the weaknesses of "Super C...more
Andy
A statistician to his core, Ian Ayres has used statistical methods to choose the title of this book. Inside, he describes running a click-through preference experiment using Google Ad Sense, and the end result—Super Crunchers?—shows that, while powerful, these techniques are certainly not, as Ayres seems to think, a panacea. Super Crunchers.

It should be no surprise that statistics provides some immensely powerful tools. The Internet is chock-full of ingenuitive applications of statistics—from Am...more
Elizabeth
Super Crunchers: Why Thinking-by-Numbers Is the New Way to Be Smart by Ian Ayres (pp. 272)

Ayres makes the argument for how evidence-based outcomes based on large controlled datasets are the way of the future. He provides a broad range of examples in education, health, and politics.

The first part of the book he does a nice job talking about how technology has made this new movement possible. He talks about needing more Super Crunching in all avenues despite the how difficult and expensive execut...more
Ashley
This book reminded me a lot of Freakonomics in the beginning - statistics and economic theory applied in interesting ways. Whereas Freakonomics looked more at the relationship between two seemingly unrelated things, Super Crunchers explored how crunching data in new and unexpected ways can yield surprising results. Lots of examples, which I liked - kept the math from becoming boring and overwhelming.

One of my favorite examples was how casinos are computing individual gambler's "pain points" - t...more
Brijesh Bolar
For anyone new to the field of analytics, data mining, experimentation this is a very good book to start with, to understand the concepts behind data science and most importantly how to use data from making business decisions.

It helps you understand while data-driven decision making is important and how businesses today are taking decisions based on data. The data could either be lying in the data warehouse which can be mined for insights or in other case the data is not readily available but c...more
Andrew
This book is full of interesting anecdotes about how data mining and statistical analysis are used to improve decision making. It also includes an interesting discussion of how to combine knowledge and intuition of experts with statistical models.

But I found the author to be incredibly annoying to read. It seems like he attended the Malcolm Gladwell School of Coining Cute Phrases to Describe Simple Concepts. He makes up the phrase "Super Cruncher", then proceeds to use it ad nauseum. I picked a...more
David
This is essentially the story of how multiple regression analysis is increasingly being used in academics and industry to outsmart the humans who design the statistical models. A big part of the story--and a fundamental truth--is that we humans ardently resist conceding our intuitive judgment to something that is often demonstrably superior… and not just our own judgments, but the diagnoses, predictions, and decision-makings of recognized experts. The bottom line is that we need to not only acce...more
Ana
I think this book should be comprised in the mandatory reading requirements of any Statistics course, its beauty lying in the way that it gives a reason and a meaning to playing with numbers; I know I would have liked to have read "Super Crunchers" beforehand, to get an idea of what all that gibberish can actually help wiht.

And the examples of the applicability of data analysis showcasted are truly enticing, my personal favourites being the poverty eradication in Mexic, the evidence based medic...more
Dave
This book has a lot of 'a-ha!' moments in it and interesting tidbits. It demonstrates the shortcomings of intuition. It gives myriad examples of objective measures of large data, especially correlation. This was particularly interesting in that it's agnostic to cause an effect but can still be powerfully informative. Last, it demonstrates that intuition and objective measure don't need to be in conflict as much as people think; that intuition and experience guide creative choices on what to meas...more
Francis
This is an engaging and eye-opening introduction to the rapidly rising role of data mining techniques (referred to in this book as Super Crunching) in many aspects of our everyday lives. He starts with an example of how regression analysis predicted the prices of Bordeaux vintages from a few weather variables better than the evaluations of wine critics, dispelling a significant portion of the esoteric mystique that the wine critics maintained about the art of tasting. He moves on rapidly to the...more
Chrissy
May 30, 2011 Chrissy rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: the "statistically uninitiated," as the author calls them
An interesting, if repetitive, book about the practical applications of statistics, ranging from business to government policy, from law to internet searches. It contains a large number of fascinating (and occasionally horrifying) pieces of information, enough to satisfy a basic curiosity about how statistics are revolutionizing decision-making in fields as diverse as Hollywood blockbuster filmmaking and poverty reduction, but not enough to really appeal deeply to those who already use statistic...more
Kimberly
I loved Freakonomics which takes everyday paradoxes, questions and perplexities and explains them via economics. Super Crunchers is along the same idea, with some really interesting facts and studies.

Written by Yale Law School professor and econometrician Ian Ayres, Super Crunchers introduces us to huge amounts of data that have been collected and shows us how these statistics can be used to make accurate predictions about everyday things. Some of the examples Ayres uses are how these scores of...more
Chad Kohalyk
Imagine The Deciding Factor rewritten by someone with a sense of humour rather than a copywriter for a huge data-mining company, mix in a little of The Long Tail, some Malcolm Gladwell, and you get this book. Mostly the book presents how regression analysis and randomized testing are used in a series of anecdotal stories. It does not go into how these numbers are crunched, just how the results can be used. The only thing I learned here was the concept of "making your own data" using randomized t...more
Jerzy
Lots to think about. Highly recommended.

The cheesy subtitle makes it sound like a bad self-help book, but it's really a good, broad overview of the different ways that people are starting to use statistics more heavily in their decision-making. Basically, he explains that people are able to collect and store loads more data than ever before, so the "Super Crunchers" are fitting very accurate equations to the data -- and many of their formulas are better at making accurate predictions than season...more
Nick Turner
Super crunching is the application of computers to large-scale social analysis. Other journalistic works on big data (aka data-mining) don't explain clearly what big data is or how it is being used for public and private profit.

The work takes a bullish attitude towards data-mining techniques and applications. It is claimed that big data means quick profits for all, but problems are swept under the carpet until late chapters. All that glistens isn't gold. Making it easier to satisfy short-term de...more
Sedi Sedehi
regret starting this book. I'm a computer
geek already, and this book stated a lot of the obvious for me; using
data and performing statistical analysis of that data enables
corporations, and people to make better informed decisions. Throughout
the book he gives various examples of different businesses and people
using data to make better decisions.

He, for example, gives an example of how Monster.com provided random
variations of their website to visitors of their site, and based on
the number of click...more
Lisa
"Super Crunchers" presented some interesting evidence demonstrating how statistics are being used more and more frequently in our day to day lives. I knew data mining was an important industry and this book showed me how. However, I found the writing to be repetitive. I think the author was attempting to clarify ideas, but instead, he just restated things he had already written.

One concern: While I absolutely agree that most Americans don't have a good understanding of what standard deviation i...more
Kip
A 4/5 only because it's an energetic, but sober and self-aware assessment of the analytic power and eventual market power of number crunching. There are a lot of good examples, good and bad but mostly good, of numbers being used to do things traditionally by experts or, as Ayres sometimes refers to them, intuitivists.

The basic, and sometimes depressing argument, is that expertise rarely outperforms or even matches a good regression or randomized A/B test. As computing power and storage space ge...more
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