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Uncontrolled: The Surprising Payoff of Trial-and-Error for Business, Politics, and Society
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Uncontrolled: The Surprising Payoff of Trial-and-Error for Business, Politics, and Society

3.72  ·  Rating details ·  128 ratings  ·  24 reviews
How do we know which social and economic policies work, which should be continued, and which should be changed? Jim Manzi argues that throughout history, various methods have been attempted—except for controlled experimentation. Experiments provide the feedback loop that allows us, in certain limited ways, to identify error in our beliefs as a first step to correcting them ...more
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published May 1st 2012 by Basic Books (first published April 3rd 2012)
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Gwern
Aug 23, 2012 rated it liked it
Moved to gwern.net. ...more
Brendan Hodge
Jan 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
Manzi's book was of dual interest to me: I'd enjoyed his articles in magazines like National Review and at my last two companies I'd used and been very impressed by the Test & Learn software which the company he helped found (Applied Predictive Technologies) produces.

From the reviews I'd read, I expected the book to focus primarily on the potential for forming public policy based on test/control experiments. That is Manzi's object, but most of the book is actually focused on discussing the natu
...more
Eugene Kernes
Jun 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
There is no way of knowing what works best in any given situation. No matter the outcome of an experiment, there is always the possibility that there are exceptions to the outcome. If the outcome shows an indication of a cause-and-effect relationship, it is possible that it was only applicable to a certain situational environment. If the outcome is a failure, it is possible that there are certain situations in which it can be true. This book asks for humility in our knowledge base, as what we kn ...more
Alex Zakharov
Mar 02, 2017 rated it liked it
The book jumps all of the place from philosophically-minded musings on foundations of science to business strategies, limitations of regression, history of social policy, nature of liberty and recommendations for the future. Unlike the fluctuations in the subject matter the writing itself is disappointingly constant in rhythm and tempo. Yes, it is clear and deliberate, but oh boy I wish Manzi experimented with his writing style as much as he advocates experimenting with everything else – the sec ...more
Rob Moore
Aug 19, 2018 rated it liked it
Very cool context for the whole undertaking of empiricism in applied social science over the broad sweep of civilized history. Starts very theoretical and then gets to some concrete applications with real problems today. Lags at points and it's not the most riveting read, but it's certainly clear and brings together the conversation that has happened around empiricism in social science in a good way. Very good read for anyone who is serious about bringing evidence to business or public policy. ...more
Chris
Jun 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
Much of my professional life leans heavily on understanding the signal through the noise, and I'm a huge fan of the role of randomized controlled trials (or, per Manzi, field trials) in contemporary public policy. This does a good job. Five stars for content, three for structure and story-telling. ...more
Dio Mavroyannis
Dec 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
Great overview of philosophy of science, then proceeds to link the philosophy with genetic algorithms(probably has one of the best discussions on those i've seen). The meat of the book is about how businesses generate knowledge or how they are actually much closer to scientific than one thinks generally thinks they are and finally there are some policy recommendations using the principles developed. I mostly enjoy this book for its exposition chapters, I found some of the discussions a bit repet ...more
Pete
Jul 14, 2012 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Lars
Dec 28, 2013 rated it liked it
In a sense, I think this is the best book that Nassim Taleb never wrote. Like Taleb's books, it has a central theme but is at its heart a grab bag of ideas and musings on a variety of topics trimmed heroically by the editors. It explores many of Taleb's favorite themes, like uncertainty and the fallibility of technology, but the treatment is more disciplined and has none of Taleb's annoying indulgences.

As others reviewers have pointed out, Manzi often demonstrates an admirable restraint and epi
...more
Andrew Hill
May 25, 2014 rated it really liked it
If you approach this book as a beginning to further inquiry, you're going to pleased. Manzi does an admirable job of reviewing the philosophy of science (for non specialists, and in VERY broad strokes), and in describing the development of randomized field trials in medicine, both of which form the basis for his subsequent discussion of the value of experimental approaches to strategy in public policy and business. This discussion is not a how-to. You will be disappointed if you want a primer on ...more
Mof
Jun 21, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: economics, social, science
No surprise. A CEO of a company that designs controlled experiments thinks that controlled experiments are a good idea.
With caveats
1. Controlled experiments are a necessary but not sufficient condition for scientific progress.
2. Replicating experiments is required before drawing conclusions.
3. Experimentation does not occur and results may not be used in a vacuum.
With skepticism
1. New programs seldom work.
2. Programs that attempt to raise skills or consciousness are more likely to fail than th
...more
The American Conservative
'Human beings crave certainty.

Throughout history, assorted shamans, haruspices, auspices, astrologers, sibyls, kaballahists, pyromancers, Hegelians, Marxists, palmists, tarot-card readers, stock chartists, and computer modelers have made good livings off of the apparently limitless market demand for more certainty and reduced risk.

But as Jim Manzi persuasively argues in his insightful and well-written new book, Uncontrolled, humanity is terrible at foresight, and trial-and-error is the chief w
...more
Dylan Groves
Jan 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
1 - There are very strong limits to what we can know about the causes and consequences of human intervention in business, public policy, etc

2 - Randomized Field Trials are the best of bad options at delivering useful knowledge, and they ought to be employed widely, with the understanding that they will usually find no effect and almost never find large effects.

3 - Public policy should reflect an experimental ethos - waivers for states to try new things, school choice, immigration to attract sci
...more
Chris Jones
Oct 12, 2014 rated it liked it
I work for Manzi's company, so I have absolutely drank the testing kool aid and believe in the arguments made in this book. I enjoyed the many detailed examples and appreciated the scientific history presented in the first few chapters, but the book got wordy at places and tended to repeat itself a lot. I think the same material could have been presented more effectively in half the length. If you're interested in the subject but want the sparknotes version, see Manzi's article in the December 2 ...more
Dan
Aug 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2012
This book is a hodgepodge of different things: part history of science, part reflection on political theory, part memoir, and part policy tract. Still, even with all of these disparate elements, Manzi managed to combine relentless logic with epistemic humility throughout this book. (I see this as a model for clear thinking, and it's one I try to mimic, usually without complete success.) He is probably the best thinker on the policy-oriented right, and this is the most thoughtful, interesting boo ...more
Anthony
Jan 11, 2013 rated it liked it
Impressed with the history of science and thorough discussion of Popper and falsificationism, but disappointed in the level of detail given to experimentation in contemporary public policy. And, minor annoyance, why does Manzi refer to experiments as RFTs instead of RCTs or RTs?
Karl
Apr 07, 2013 rated it liked it
This book, alas, needed to be shorter. The author padded out a bunch of insights with a history of science and some vague policy recommendations. The good parts, on the practical use of experiments in business and government, were very good.
Ivan Taylor
Apr 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this book. It was about Randomized Field Trials and their many applications. It also had a good bit of myth busting. I especially liked the criticism of the Freakonomics case for abortions being the reason for the reduction in crime.
Fred R
Jun 09, 2012 rated it liked it
Good solid stuff on philosophy of science, the virtues of experimentation, etc., from one of the (technocratic) (center-)right's best thinkers. ...more
Will Chamberlain
May 17, 2012 rated it really liked it
Worth a read. Manzi knows a ton about the subject matter, having been in the business analytics sector for a while. You'll appreciate just how HARD social science really is at the end of it. ...more
Razib Khan
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Dec 04, 2014
Mark Clements
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Mar 23, 2013
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Sep 13, 2019
Sam
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Nov 15, 2017
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Jan 16, 2017
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Dec 30, 2014
Olivier
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Oct 06, 2018
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May 10, 2017
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