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Standard Deviations: Flawed Assumptions, Tortured Data, and Other Ways to Lie with Statistics

3.89  ·  Rating details ·  518 ratings  ·  66 reviews
Or that Asian Americans are most susceptible to heart attacks on the fourth day of the month? Or that drinking a full pot of coffee every morning will add years to your life, but one cup a day increases the risk of pancreatic cancer? All of these “facts” have been argued with a straight face by credentialed researchers and backed up with reams of data and convincing statis ...more
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published July 31st 2014 by Harry N. Abrams (first published January 1st 2014)
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Gary My syllabus has some projects and lots of exam questions (which can also be used as homework exercises):…more
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Andrew Skretvedt
Apr 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
If you're short on time and want the most value from this book, start by reading chapter nineteen, which provides an excellent summation of the books driving themes, in just eight pages.

If you've been sold on the book after this, the one-page summary notes at the end of each chapter are your next stop. These "Don't be Fooled" sections give you the executive summary of the main ideas of the chapter, and include useful advice for use in your own analyses.

If the theses still have your interest, per
Apr 28, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Pretty darn good. Almost rated it five stars if it weren't for the lack of originality: there are lots of books on errors in data analysis.

Because this is a recent book, it offers some advantages over, say, the classic How to Lie with Statistics.

Seems like it would be a perfect introductory book for anyone looking to learn more about how data analysis, data science, etc. are conducted badly. I'd add it into the data flaws canon, along with How to Lie with Statistics, The Signal and the Noise, a
Jim Kahn
Dec 31, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This insightful book explains how we should all be skeptical when presented with any information. Just because a statement is preceded by "Studies show...." or "75% of healthy people...." does not mean the information is infallible. Researchers make mistakes, data can be manipulated, and most of all patterns can be found in almost any data set from which foolish conclusions can be drawn and presented to the gullible. While this was an amusing read, there is a dark undertone due to the fact that ...more
Jul 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is a combined review of the following books:
Gary Smith, "What the Luck?"
Dan Ariely, "Predictably Irrational"
Annie Duke, "Thinking in Bets"
Gary Smith, "Standard Deviations"

I'm a big believer that statistics and behavioral economics are much under-appreciated fields. As a booster shot, to recharge my thinking in these areas, I picked up these books. They pretty much did the job; they are well-written in the language of the common person.

Ms. Duke's work uses her experience as a gambler to shed
Feb 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
An enlightening and entertaining discussion of the use and, more often, misuse of statistics. In the early 60's I read How to Lie with Statistics, an absolutely fantastic expose, and this is in the same vein. I am regularly annoyed at the misuse of statistics in news articles that make huge erroneous claims based on flimsy statistics. Sometimes I think people will believe anything if some sort of data/statistic is attached. Reading this book would definitely remedy that! Examples of the false in ...more
David Mario Mendiola
Clear and mildly humorous. The best food for thought was the concept of "data without theory". It is something I've wondered about and he clarified some misconceptions I had. Also, his refutation of the common answer to a riddle I've seen many times was shocking (you know your neighbor has 2 children and one is a girl. what is the probability the other is a girl? Does the probability change if you know that the known girl is the oldest of the two children?). It would have been well to have sever ...more
Cliff Chew
Jul 11, 2016 rated it really liked it
My background is in Economics, so this book covers some familiar content. I can only assume that the content is pretty consumable for layman (I am biased in this sense). Nonetheless, the content was still refreshing in certain aspects, bringing in interesting stories and views on some of the statistical concepts. No worries, there are no hard equations in this book. Just some numbers that might take some time to digest. A light read that I would recommend to anyone who wants to get more knowledg ...more
Nov 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018-non-fiction
A good introduction to how data is manipulated, misused or misinterpreted. The author does a good job of using real life accounts to show how really silly policy/business decisions/individual choices can be made using plausible looking but actually false information. Probably not going to surprise anyone who has any statistics background, but a very readable introduction for those who want to understand the world of data more. This could be a good book for school students as it will prepare them ...more
This book was great! Despite being about the much dreaded topic of statistics, it was highly entertaining and easy to read. Gary Smith filled his book with understandable examples and winning arguments, truely helping the reader understand how easily data is tortured and sold as fact.
Oct 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing
For an academic this book was well written with great examples of how even well-intentioned researchers can be duped by numbers.
Gary Antonacci
Apr 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Excellent entertaining coverage of statistical logic.
Sarah S
Nov 12, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: didn-t-finish
I read the first two chapters. The ideas aren't original... I was hoping for a rigorous and scholarly analysis, it didn't deliver. It reads like pop-stats, I should have read the reviews first. ...more
Mar 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
Bad as audiobook
M.R. Raghu
Oct 20, 2018 rated it it was ok
The title is really interesting but i was expecting a more rigorous treatment of the subject. While the book is very instructive on how one can use/misuse data to depict a story, it is at best a beginners guide.
'Izzat Radzi
Perhaps one of the books that gives critiques on the fallacy with regard to probabilities, statistics and the applied use of it in finance and investment, academia research, medical diagnosis and/or prognosis and a lot of other related fields that deals with data (sports science for instance).

Thus, the major part of this are dedicated to straighten the dividing line between correlation and causation.
As to the nature of this book as a critique, a lot of examples were drawn from an abundant of cas
Oct 19, 2014 rated it liked it
We are living in a golden age of pop math books, such as Jordan Ellenberg's How To Not Be Wrong and Ed Frenkel's Love And Math. Compared to those books, this one is quite disappointing. Which isn't to say it's entirely bad -- the author has compiled a large number of interesting anecdotes about people misusing statistics, and some of them have been the type of story I bring up at cocktail parties or mention to my students -- but overall the book lacks cohesion and doesn't hold together as well a ...more
Ashish Sharma
Jun 24, 2016 rated it really liked it
Must read for all data analysts. The book gives insights into the data analytics , how it can be manipulate and influence big decisions.
Bill Leach
Mar 09, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Data and statistics can portray information in very misleading ways. Smith takes the reader through some of the fallacies, providing examples which are inevitably entertaining. While some intentionally misleading situations can be easily spotted, in many cases one's only defence is an awareness of possible meddling and the need to question data before accepting the conclusions drawn from the data.

Topics covered include:
- mangled graphs - those without zero on the Y-axis may be exaggerating the d
Jul 05, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
The first half of the book held my interest as each chapter contained real-life examples of how statistics are misused, how people have based bad decisions on information that was presented incorrectly and how bad information can be made to look perfectly reasonable. There is nothing here for anyone who has any statistics background, but it seems like an entertaining introduction for the rest of us.

There are some errors described in the book that I see almost every day. For example, Chapter 2 i
Feb 10, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The book provides an excellent introduction on the misinterpretation/misuse of data and statistics. For example, it is often cited that college graduates earn more money than high school graduates. But the fallacy of that thinking is that college graduates are self-selected; they choose to attend college and so the difference isn't just having a college degree (which result in a higher compensation). After all, billionaires like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg became rich despite not ...more
Chris Boutté
Feb 05, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I cannot express how important I think it is for everyone to read books about being skeptical of data and research. This book from Gary Smith was recommended while I was reading another book on skepticism and critical thinking, and Standard Deviations didn't disappoint. The chapters in this book are short and sweet to give you examples and overviews about how data can be misinterpreted. I really enjoyed the book, but as someone who isn't as into numbers as some people, there were a few parts tha ...more
Michael Martz
Nov 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
I'd be lying if I said I read 'Standard Deviations' straight through from beginning to end. For me, it was the perfect "poke around when you see a chapter that looks interesting" book. Its premise is that statistics have been used through the years for political, business, athletic, and medical reasons that are often wrong or misleading. Standard Deviations does a good job explaining exactly how and why that happens.

It's fairly breezily written for math-based non-fiction, doesn't presuppose a h
There is a lot of great stuff in this book. It's impossible for me to tell if the ordinary person would understand all of it or not, because I've been a statistician all my life, but I think anyone who is interested would get a great deal of it. This book is about all of the ways data can be badly gathered, misused, misunderstood, and as the author says, tortured. I used this book last semester as a book for my Stats honors students to read (community college level). They enjoyed it. I wish we c ...more
Geoffrey Sutton
May 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science, psychology
Smith provides an entertaining and informative review of common errors made in reporting and interpreting statistics. Some distortions appear deliberate thus, we learn how lives can be negatively affected by taking a course of action based on faulty assumptions.
Those familiar with statistics may not find a lot of new information, but I did find new examples of old tricks. And a review isn't a bad idea when we are bombarded with data. One reason I read the book was to see what others write given
Jake Brannigan
This was an informative book. It's a good introduction to typical mistakes one makes when drawing conclusions from data, (self selection bias, survivor bias etc) and has got me thinking about some conclusions I make when in discussion with other people.

I feel though, that Smith rather ran out of steam towards the latter half of the book. The material began to feel unoriginal and I felt like there wasn't much to take away unlike in the first half.

I'd recommend a quick flick through the earlier ch
Dec 28, 2018 rated it liked it
An insightful and necessary book on how to be suspicious and wary of studies which are biased and where data may have been ransacked and molded in order to fit a certain outcome. There are many useful tips to keep in mind to navigate through the uninterrupted flow of information and useless studies. It does get a little repetitive and loses its engagement and yet there's a wealth of humour and the information is presented in a very clear, engaging and concise manner. ...more
Piotr Szybicki
Feb 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
So you would know when not to trust. There is a saying in statistics if you torture data long enough it will confess.

Book gives terrific overview of all the intentional and unintentional mistakes made by people all around us. Regardless of the intent, of thous individuals (it can also be our own mind) is is better to know and be careful because it effects our daily life.
Maya Gopalakrishnan
Dont be fooled by numbers

Gary Smith explains with numerous examples how simple logic triumphs long tables, confusing figures and statistics. In short.. the human brain is wired to look for patterns and can see patterns where none exist. We have to be aware of this flaw and work around by asking the right questions.
Oct 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nov 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
Easy to follow even while driving. Subject matter is for beginners but that is not a pro or con just a recommendation to read before things like the Master Algorithm. Real problem is the book can be very wrong. Machine learning algorithms ransack data and look for correlations without theory but seem to be very popular.
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