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The Numbers Game: The Commonsense Guide to Understanding Numbers in the News, in Politics, and in Life
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The Numbers Game: The Commonsense Guide to Understanding Numbers in the News, in Politics, and in Life

3.6  ·  Rating details ·  273 Ratings  ·  54 Reviews
The Strunk & White of statistics team up to help the average person navigate the numbers in the news.

Drawing on their hugely popular BBC Radio 4 show More or Less,, journalist Michael Blastland and internationally known economist Andrew Dilnot delight, amuse, and convert American mathphobes by showing how our everyday experiences make sense of numbers.

The radical pre
Hardcover, 210 pages
Published December 26th 2008 by Gotham (first published December 24th 2008)
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Feb 25, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: math, society, have
I don't think I'll ever need to refer to this book again - otherwise I would keep it - so I've donated the book. It's a very good read, however, especially for readers who are not too conversant with math, and occasionally ask themselves "what does that thing in the news about statistics or probability or the ways that the government is rating teachers etc etc etc really mean? Is it real, or is it a charade?

[original review]
This was a real good read, much more rewarding than I would have thought
Feb 22, 2009 marked it as to-read
I'm looking forward to reading this book. The way the media, and even people who should know better, abuse numbers so as to make real risk assessment very difficult is discouraging. For example, the American Institute of Cancer Research says we should eliminate eating bacon because doing so increases our risk of colorectal cancer by 21%. That is true on the face of it and would appear startling until you ask what the baseline is. About 45 of 1000 men will get that cancer, or about 5 per 100 men. ...more
Jan 22, 2009 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone who wants an easy way to better understand statistics.
I received this book for free through Goodreads First Reads. It's still an honest review, but the FTC wanted you to know...
The Numbers Game is a great guide to how to understand numbers and how they are used, especially in politics and the news. Blastland and Dilnot use daily-life examples to illustrate statistical principles in a way that is easy to read and even entertaining.

Some of my favorite examples include: describing how a statistical trend is similar to a man walking his
Aug 12, 2009 rated it liked it
The Numbers Game is a fascinating look at statistics and polls. The take home message is that you can't believe everything you read, especially polls, but if you understand how polls are done (how things are counted) you may be better able to cut through the crap. The book contains some truths which are surprising, but probably shouldn't be. For instance, when the government or some organization reports that there are so many of this or that in the country, be it illegal aliens or dogs and cats, ...more
Jul 02, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 52-in-2009
The Numbers Game: The Commonsense Guide to Understanding Numbers in the News, in Politics, in Life by Michael Blastland and Andrew Bilmont (pp. 210)

A must read book on interpreting numbers presented in our daily headlines by the British men behind the TV program, More or Less. Blastland and Bilmont do a fantastic job of speaking in plain, non-math speak and presenting interesting examples of how stats are often blown out of proportion in our 30 second sound bit culture. Highly accessible and eas
Aug 20, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good book about the kind of numbers and statistics you see in the news, and how to interpret them properly. For example, if you hear something like "eating a carrot a day doubles your chance of getting liver cancer" that sounds significant. But it could mean that carrots double your chance of cancer from 1/2% to 1%, and news reports rarely specify. Also, it's important to know the accuracy of any medical tests you take. If you have a positive mammogram you still only have about a 10% chance of h ...more
Apr 07, 2009 rated it really liked it
This book is based on a popular British show called More or Less in which a writer and an economist try to teach the general public to make sense of the data that swamp us each day. For me, the most valuable part of the book involves the numerous examples of how data have been presented by journalists and politicians to support particular viewpoints. The specific topics covered include making sense of averages, the (over)use of performance measures, assessing risk, making sense of sampling, unde ...more
Kater Cheek
Mar 30, 2014 rated it liked it
This is a really cool book that interprets common statistical and information-gathering misunderstandings in a way that everyone can understand. Maybe that doesn't make it sound interesting, but trust me, it is.

This book will explain why if you get a positive result on a test that's 90% accurate, it doesn't mean you have a 90% chance of having that disease. It explains how and why people game the systems put into place to measure comparisons. It explains why two people can measure the same issue
Jan 08, 2009 rated it really liked it
If you've ever been confused or frustrated by statistics, polls, and other numbers you've read about or heard on tv, this book should be on your shelf. Blastland, a journalist, and Andrew Dilnot, a fiscal math expert, explain in simple terms and with interesting and sometimes amusing examples how statistics and other numbers can be manipulated to mean just about anything the creator wants. The authors discuss polls, percentages, graphs and charts, census numbers, mortality and health stats, budg ...more
Feb 16, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
The Numbers Game tells you about statistics in the news and politics and reveals the truth about the numbers that are thrown at you daily: numbers are plain and simple, but life is not. You will see what a jumbled mess it is to turn life into a nice round number that is (obviously) often wrong. You will be given a better understanding of what those numbers mean, and the tools to scrutinize them at your own will to get to the bottom of things! Because things are not often what they seem.
Sep 05, 2010 rated it liked it
Not a bad book but most of the questions asked and answered were pretty obvious. That being said, it was nice to see someone make the answers available in an accessible and coherent manner. Anyone who trusts or doesn't trust statistics should read this'll help both of you think and argue statistics intelligently. Worth the time...but not earth shattering in its presentation, conclusions, or ideology.
Feb 05, 2009 rated it really liked it
I took way too long reading this book--almost a year! it really is much better than that--very entertaining in describing how important it is to think about the numbers we hear in the media and elsewhere. Great at breaking down the big numbers and making statistics understandable and useful for everyday life. I'm not great at translating from British in head automatically so a lot of things i have to read twice which is probably what took so long :) Great book tho, I recommend it!
Jan 28, 2009 rated it really liked it
The Numbers Game is a fascinating book about statistics in the media and how they can deceive, confuse and hopefully enlighten. The authors, who host a BBC radio show on the same topic, do a wonderful job collecting examples of statistics and how they can be misleading. Unfortunately, now I trust numbers in the media even less than I did, which wasn't much. I'd highly recommend this to anyone who reads or hears statistics in the media, which is just about everyone.
Like Freakonomics, only it's about "numeracy" - understanding what numbers and statistics really mean, especially statistics that sound big that politicians and doctors use. Like, if the US government decides to spend a sum on health care, how much does that work out for each person living in the US per week?
Dec 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
The book does an excellent job of explaining where published statistics come from and what meaning should be ascribed to them, with many examples. Explains how data, averages and risk factors can be deceptive or exaggerated for effect, yet shows how to interpret these numbers without throwing them out entirely.
Adam Jacobson
Jun 15, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: data
I spend most of my life working with numbers and had read John Allen Paulos Innumeracy a number of years ago (which I am going to reread) so nothing in here was terribly new.
But it was a good review of how most of the world, politicians particularly, just don't get how number is general and statistics in particular operate.
Wendy Roberts
Mar 22, 2010 rated it really liked it
So many great new ways to interpret the numbers that are constantly being thrown at us. I really need to reread it to make it completely sink in. A great little book...made me realize how much we, as readers/listeners ingest without really thinking when it comes to gov't reports, media presentations, TV interviews etc.
Oct 03, 2010 rated it liked it
Entertaining and common sense review of how statistics work, polls, percentages, averages, and the like. Should be required reading for journalists and politicians. Fascinating and easy to understand. Great if you'd like a refresher on how to think about all the numbers the media throws out in news stories, numbers in commercials, and statistics in political ads.
Mar 18, 2009 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book. As a humanities student without much math background, I found this book accessible and easy to read. It deals with how people pervert math and statistics in order to exaggerate claims, sell something, and sow fear. Mathematical literacy seems to be on the decline, and this book does its part to remedy that situation.
Dec 05, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: real-book
Good, useful cues to help you think about numbers that you encounter in the media and elsewhere. Makes use of the skills you already have to analyze the abstract numbers that people like to throw at you. Give this one a read if you want to better understand the world around us as reported by statistics.
Jon Bauer
Gives a good overall view of the dangers of irresponsibly throwing around numbers/stats/etc. I like that they don't say "Just don't trust statistics...they're usually just an ill-used tool by those in power" or something to that effect. In a sentence, this book is a plea for common sense. And it is a well written, concise plea.
Jul 03, 2010 rated it really liked it
This book is good guide to interpreting statistics and has little formal mathematics. Guide to interpreting statistics, focusing on appropriate scaling, not confusing an average value with a typical one, definitions required to categorize things for counting, who collects the data, and the perils of expecting one number to tell you all you want to know.
Marcene Grimsley
Mar 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
This was an enjoyable book!It broke statistical concepts down into baby steps and providing interesting examples. My attention was kept the entire time and I enjoyed a renowned sense of understanding the data thrown out to us in society.
Jul 26, 2015 rated it liked it
While this older edition was bought at a library book sale, its principles are timeless. The book covers topics from averages to sampling and encourages the reader to be skeptical - but not cynical - about how numbers are presented. As always, don't accept anything without asking questions.
Aug 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
For a book about numbers, I give this 4 stars. It's very readable, even if you're not interested in/good at numbers. And it's a good reminder to have a healthy skepticism for statistics provided by government or media. I would recommend it for everyone.
Jun 03, 2009 rated it really liked it
Fun book that gets one objectively responding to news claims: "Is that a big number?" "What is the normal incidence? "What is the base line?" "Is that just part of the normal up and down?" "Which group of the average is of interest?" etc.

May 20, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, math
I enjoyed learning how and why to be skeptical about numbers in the media. Toward the end, though, the tone got a little repetitive and I couldn't stay with it--skimmed the last couple of chapters. Still, I think every journalist and policy-maker should read this book.
Heinrich Souza
Imported from my LinkedIn Reading List via Shelfari.

Highly recommended. Very accessible guide on how to interpret numbers (statistics, risks, etc) presented by the media. Or when to take some of these numbers with a grain of salt, rather.
Aug 04, 2009 rated it liked it
quick book from the British, talking about how the numbers you see presented are technically accurate, but how the presentation skew what they really mean. We all kind of know this, but helps to actually put the right questions into your mind on evaluating what they mean.
Feb 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
Fast, surprisingly enjoyable read. I'm a bit math-phobic, and found the explanations very clear. (Not to say that the authors' insights will be easy to put into practice; critical thinking generally does take effort.)
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