Yes, it has all the stuff you hear about: how people use stats to subtly (and not-so-subtly) misdirect the reader/listener, how to systematically reco...moreYes, it has all the stuff you hear about: how people use stats to subtly (and not-so-subtly) misdirect the reader/listener, how to systematically recognize (or create) misinterpretations, and a strong implicit call to action for clearer information in public discourse.
But in the billion years since this classic came of age, we've all learned that other ways, some of them better presented. When it was written, many people believed the information they received in the papers, in magazines, and on the news. Now, news shows spend their time trying to discredit bloggers who point out their biases. Our cynicism has evolved to the point where How to Lie With Statistics teaches valuable technique, but loses much of its insight-producing novelty.
You should still read it, though, for two reasons:
- It's a classic. It's a great, simple read and you want to be able to say, "As it says in so classic and simple a book as How to Lie With Statistics--which, Professor, you have obviously studied--you are clearly hiding the truth!"
- No other book presents such a concise set of instructions for noticing when you have misled someone inadvertently. I frequently notice some document I'm preparing using a technique--quite often one built-in to popular business communication tools--that misleads people as to the real meaning of the data.
Because I've read this, I can catch myself and make sure I present my case clearly, but unimpeachably. If I mislead my audience, they'll catch me; They'll catch me and tear me apart, even if I were right.
So check out this classic, overlook its implicit innocence, learn some dirty tricks you may have forgotten or not caught, and pay attention to how you've been trained to use them just like we all have.
Bonus bit: my favorite bad statistics technique: Bar graphs with images for bars. As they grow taller, they grow wider, making a number twice as big appear four times as large. (less)
I had high hopes that this would be a three-star book; sadly, it isn't. And it isn't the unsupportable world (she's writing her way out of that, slowl...moreI had high hopes that this would be a three-star book; sadly, it isn't. And it isn't the unsupportable world (she's writing her way out of that, slowly), the doormat of a protag (that's getting better over time), or the whoppers that torment the language like a Dominican Inquisitor (she's really improving there, which is good but also kind of sad).
This time, the problem is the the deep-seated assumption on the superiority of the "hero" characters and the protagonist's need to acquiesce to their blatant disregard for who gets hurt.
The plot is reasonable: Archer (our protag rape-survivor-turned-superhero-who-has-taken-over-the-life-of-her-millionaire-heiress-playboy-playmate-sister, because we don't want too much wish fulfillment here--see my reviews of Scent of Shadows and Taste of Night) has a doppleganger out to get her (and she doesn't know what a doppleganger is, oddly), has younger members of her super-Troop out to get her, screwed up (maybe) and broke the accepted order of the Light/Shadow world (causing the Light to lose access to the archive of what's happening and probably killing the changeling dedicated to protecting the Light heroes in neutral space), and the whole city is about to be destroyed (or thrown into another dimension), which has even her being-of-pure-evil-thoughts-father trying to work with her.
Not great, but reasonable. The storyline whereby the changeling is damaged has real potential. Sadly, it gets almost no attention other than comic relief.
The writing keeps getting better. Pettersson can write action pretty well. Whether it's a 15-person combat in a canyon, a knock-down-drag-out fight in a bathroom, or a sneaking around the mansion of a crazy, evil, and paranoid man, it works: the tension is right and it never falls into the common "too much happening, can't follow it in my head" pit.
Unfortunately, the problems from the first book, where Archer was knocked unconscious, drugged, physically altered to look, smell, and sound like her dead sister, and forced into a charade spying on the step-father she hates--and we are supposed to think it was appropriate--are back in force.
This time, Archer's only character development is learning to do the same thing to the man she loves. While sleeping with the man who's telling her to do it.
A recurring line in the book is about how Archer has to accept that her access to both Shadow and Light powers makes her "biologically different" and how she has to stop trying to act like a "normal" Light hero; she is encouraged to accept that she may know how to do something they don't understand and that she should do it anyway. The subtext, though, is that she is "biologically different" from the normal people around her and that she knows better than they do, not only how to protect the city from the Shadow Troop, but whom they should sleep with, where they should live(1), and even whether they should be allowed to be who they are.
The Light agents are horrified at the thought that Archer may have accidentally killed someone, but they are equally horrified that she won't capture someone, erase their memories, and give them a new personality just because they think he may be tempted by the Shadows.
In Pettersson's world, having power makes you morally superior and redemption is something you have handed to you by someone with more power (another theme in the book, but that would take serious spoilers).
Of course, I don't know that disagreeing with its randroid worldview is enough to knock a star off the review, so let's say I did it for the hamfisted handling of the "romance" storyline and the painful three-page sex scene that went on about how she was just using him to get off so she didn't have to think about her troubles.
I don't know if I'll give book 4 a read or not.
----- 1) She sends her friends out of town for the duration of the book, which takes unnecessary page time except to built the expectation that She Knows Best.(less)
If you're not in on the joke, you'll find And Your Point Is? a bit of a strange read.
It's a collection of 15 essays critiquing the work of science fi...moreIf you're not in on the joke, you'll find And Your Point Is? a bit of a strange read.
It's a collection of 15 essays critiquing the work of science fiction author Jeff Lint. His stories confounded conventional plot structure and his heroes confounded logic, reason, and etiquette. Several essays compare and contrast him to Kafka, two discuss how his plays and musicals really get the audience involved (one requires setting the theater on fire, another releases live scorpions into the seats, etc.), and many try to explain and dissect his characters' ability--or even compulsion--to commit social non sequitors when confronted with adversity.
Lint was a direct successor to Voltaire, Kafka, Sheckley, Lem, and Juster, propelled from their platform so far into the stratosphere most readers could not see where he was, much less where he was going.
Lint was also completely fictional. He first appeared a couple of years ago in Lint, Aylett's biography of the character. Lint let Aylett's present his "new fabulist" writing philosophy, connect (and appropriate) a wide history of science fiction's more colorful characters (Dick, Ellison, Campbell...) and legends, and entertain us as only Aylett can. Aylett's characters are Lint's characters writ small; putting the most irascible one in the real world gave him all sorts of ways to play.
So this collection of 15 essays with 11 names attached are all by Aylett and they review and analyze fictional stories written in a fictional context by a fictional author. They even cross-reference one another and draw differing conclusions. (Very Stanislau Lem-like)
So... now that I'm in on the joke, is the book fun?
As if you have to ask. Aylett takes literary criticism and makes it laugh-out-loud, stop to write down a quote, SMS-a-line-to-your-friend funny. And you come to know the characters and stories, since even when the characters have different names and appear in different books they are similar enough to see how the "author" works and thinks. Lint isn't the real protagonist of the story behind these essays, Lint's writing is. The abstract story of the world-view expressed by a fictional author--and how it changes over time--might as well appear with essays as its supporting case. They do what secondary characters do in a more traditional story: they give the protagonist a chance to speak, they ask the hard questions, and they wonder at the protagonists' brilliance.
If you like Aylett's more outré books (such as the Accomplice novels), you'll appreciate how And Your Point Is? gives Aylett a chance to dissect his protagonists (say, Barney Juno); if you're a fan of his more accessible work (such as Fain the Sorcerer), you'll see what is just beyond; if you haven't ever read Aylett, you'll get a chance to experience his words, his sentences, and his writing (all three separate entities, trust me) for the first time.
I've always been a fan of the "fictional nonfiction," when well done. Aylett handles it beautifully.