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The Hidden Half: How the World Conceals its Secrets

3.95  ·  Rating details ·  107 ratings  ·  14 reviews

Why does one smoker die of lung cancer but another live to 100? The answer is 'The Hidden Half' - those random, unknowable variables that mess up our attempts to comprehend the world.

We humans are very clever creatures - but we're idiots about how clever we really are. In this entertaining and ingenious book, Blastland reveals how in our quest to make the world more unders

Kindle Edition
Published April 4th 2019 by Atlantic Books
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May 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Causality is really, really hard and many solutions do not work. Why?

1. When genetically identical Marmorkreb crayfish are grown in the same environment and given lots of food, they all grow to very different sizes (published in Nature!), it proves that we simply don’t know what affects their size on top of their gene and environment. It is not bias or measurement error, but a fundamental property.
2. The biggest study about delinquent boys and adult crime found absolutely no factors that can pr
Brian Clegg
Jul 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Michael Blastland is co-author of one of my favourite titles on the use and misuse of numbers, The Tiger that Isn't - so I was excited to see this book and wasn't disappointed.

Blastland opens with the story of a parthenogenic crustacean that seems to demonstrate that, despite having near-identical nature and nurture, a collection of the animals vary hugely in size, length of life and practically every other measure. This is used to introduce us to the idea that our science deals effectively with
David Wineberg
Jul 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
Michael Blastland is upset that everything is not neat and tidy. That there is no guarantee of symmetry. That economies are not predictable. That genetics does not describe nearly everything about life. In his The Hidden Half, he examines a multitude of disciplines and events to show we must be missing half of what is going on, because we can’t explain them otherwise. We exist on half the knowledge we need, without knowing what we don’t know.

The book is a fast-reading and delightful collection o
Jul 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019, kindle, non-fiction
The inordinate impact of the infinitesimal - It's impossible to influence it all.

Even when we're in total control of everything there are hidden parameters that can have outsized proportions.

Blastland observes that even when we try to control for all discrepancies, there are so many hidden factors that it becomes effectively impossible to reproduce the same conditions twice. This has obvious applications in the Replication Crisis in academia as well as in politics, where it is impossible to show
Aug 15, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Interesting book on the use and misuse of numbers in what we think we know in economics, science, public policy, and more. Since the foundation of my political philosophy is "I think it's going to be more complicated than that" I am a receptive audience. That said this wasn't really a gripping page-turner of a read for me.
Dermot Casey
Nov 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
One of the best books I've read in terms of its opening up huge questions about the world and how it works in the best possible way. Questioning of the limits of what we know without falling into pseudoscience its a super read. The first chapter and the chapter on GDP worth it if there was nothing else in the book. And theres loads more in the book.
Dec 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
Yet another book adding to the corpus of general principles some of us are familiar with: humans have a tendency to come up with causal explanation, stories help us make sense of our lives, “expert” predictions are usually wrong, behavioural science, the replication crisis in science, the inherent chaos of life, black swans, etc.

Regardless, the opening of the book really spoke to me:

“Instead of saying ‘I really need to know this,’ we need to say, ‘I can’t know this and how do we manage in a worl
Jul 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book could have been called ‘Fooled by Randomness’ or even ‘Incidents and accidents’. It looks at how we think we see patterns in things, but may be completely wrong because so much of the world is still unknown, even in areas like science. ‘We dream of laws and general truths; the practicality is often a patchwork of unexpected anomalies.’
Lots of great examples including the cause of the drop in teen pregnancy in the UK (some argue the case for the impact of Little Britain’s Vicky Pollard
Shubrashankh Chatterjee
Apr 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
The Hidden Half is one of the few books out there which makes you extremely uncomfortable about the state of decision making in the world. This book should be a must-read for all decision-makers or for that matter anyone who is under the assumption that randomness is random and does not impact their lives or work outcomes. The book can be a nightmare for scientists/engineers/policymakers if they are not open to a humbling experience as it exposes the brittle knowledge paradox we all live with.
В 1990-х годах в зоомагазинах Германии появились необычные мраморные рачки. Их главной особенностью был партеногенез (однополое размножение), в результате которого на свет появлялись идентичные клоны единственного родителя. Рачки стали подарком для биологов: те рассчитывали, что обрели много дешевых идентичных особей для экспериментов. Однако их ждал сюрприз: даже в лабораторных условиях клоны вырастали разными по размеру, окраске и повадкам. Какой-то неизвестный фактор, помимо генетики и окружа ...more
Patience Allergy
Mar 04, 2020 rated it liked it
Lots of good science books discuss uncertainty and human fallibility. For such an interesting topic, I often felt bored. The bit on medicine effectiveness seemed overly negative. It's not all bad news with whopping unknowns! Sure, duloxetine has a 1:9 efficacy according to that article in "Nature" magazine (googling suggests that's a VERY conservative estimate). However, if you use the trial-and-error approach described earlier (and later) in the book, the probability of finding an effective ant ...more
S Ravishankar
May 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Thought-provoking. The need for certainty around policy-making is explained. On the other hand people are getting wiser to all-knowing policy-makers, officials and economists. Having alternate policy-paths and change focus and priority amongst them is so lacking; also more and more essential.
Mar 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
Good enough to finish the book
Aug 12, 2020 rated it did not like it
Boring. DNF 15%
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