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Picturing the Uncertain World: How to Understand, Communicate, and Control Uncertainty Through Graphical Display

Handbook / ManualPopular Science

By: Howard Wainer

280 pages, 14 b/w photos, 11 colour & 81 b/w illustrations, 12 tables

Princeton University Press

Paperback | Nov 2011 | #195123 | ISBN-13: 9780691152677
Availability: Usually dispatched within 4 days Details
NHBS Price: £14.19 $19/€16 approx
Hardback | May 2009 | #195124 | ISBN-13: 9780691137599
Out of Print Details

About this book

In his entertaining and informative book "Graphic Discovery", Howard Wainer unlocked the power of graphical display to make complex problems clear. Now he's back with "Picturing the Uncertain World", a book that explores how graphs can serve as maps to guide us when the information we have is ambiguous or incomplete. Using a visually diverse sampling of graphical display, from heartrending autobiographical displays of genocide in the Kovno ghetto to the "Pie Chart of Mystery" in a New Yorker cartoon, Wainer illustrates the many ways graphs can be used--and misused--as we try to make sense of an uncertain world.

"Picturing the Uncertain World" takes readers on an extraordinary graphical adventure, revealing how the visual communication of data offers answers to vexing questions yet also highlights the measure of uncertainty in almost everything we do. Are cancer rates higher or lower in rural communities? How can you know how much money to sock away for retirement when you don't know when you'll die? And where exactly did nineteenth-century novelists get their ideas? These are some of the fascinating questions Wainer invites readers to consider. Along the way he traces the origins and development of graphical display, from William Playfair, who pioneered the use of graphs in the eighteenth century, to instances today where the public has been misled through poorly designed graphs.

We live in a world full of uncertainty, yet it is within our grasp to take its measure. Read "Picturing the Uncertain World" and learn how.

In 'Picturing the Uncertain World', Howard Wainer approaches this problem through stories, and every one is a gem. This is territory that has long been dominated by the books of Edward Tufte . . . but Wainer's approach is refreshingly different. He has himself been involved in many policy debates and understands well that the same information can be interpreted in a variety of ways to support widely divergent positions. . . . Like two of Wainer's earlier books . . . this one makes for very fine reading and would be an excellent text for a general-education seminar.
- Michael Goodchild, American Scientist

"As enjoyable to read as it is enlightening, ['Picturing the Uncertain World'] includes far more than its title indicates. Throughout, Wainer illuminates many of the big ideas of statistics in ways that help the reader understand and value the ideas. He provides contrasting graphical forms to demonstrate good data displays and incorporates analogies to help readers understand why certain logical arguments are flawed. . . . Anyone would enjoy reading this book."
- Mathematics Teacher

"This is a very well-written book with subtle analyses and a refreshing approach to the field of statistics. For information designers the book offers ideal access to the science of uncertainty. Moreover . . . Wainer has succeeded in linking together two disciplines: statistical thinking and visual communication."
- Wibke Weber, Information Design Journal

"Howard Wainer's book of the science of uncertainty (his label for the science of statistics), and how to recognize and manage it, is a combination of breezy, clever writing and unique visual examples with tutorials to clarify the technical aspects. It belongs on graphic artist's bookshelves."
- Peter F. Eder, World Future Review


Preface and Acknowledgments xv

I. Introduction and Overview
Chapter 1: The Most Dangerous Equation 5

II. Political Issues
Chapter 2: Curbstoning IQ and the 2000 Presidential Election 23
Chapter 3: Stum bling on the Path toward the Visual Communication of Complexity 31
Chapter 4: Using Graphs to Simplify the Complex: The Medicare Drug Plan as an Example 35
Chapter 5: A Political Statistic 39
Chapter 6: A Catch-22 in Assigning Primary Delegates 47

III. Educational Testing
Chapter 7: Testing the Disabled: Using Statistics to Navigate between the Scylla of Standards and the Charybdis of Court Decisions 55
Chapter 8: Ethnic Bias or Statistical Artifact? Freedle's Folly 63
Chapter 9: Insignificant Is Not Zero: Musing on the College Board's Understanding of Uncertainty 74

IV. Mostly Methodological
Chapter 10: How Long Is Short? 87
Chapter 11: Improving Data Displays 92
Chapter 12: Old Mother Hubbard and the United Nations 106
Chapter 13: Depicting Error 121
Chapter 14: The Mendel Effect 148

V. History
Chapter 15: Truth Is Slower than Fiction 161
Chapter 16: Galton's Normal 168
Chapter 17: Nobody's Perfect 173
Chapter 18: When Form Violates Function 179
Chapter 19: A Graphical Legacy of Charles Joseph Minard: Two Jewels from The Past 186
Chapter 20: La Diffusion de Quelques Id#es: A Master's Voice 193
Chapter 21: Numbers and the Remembrance of Things Past 199

VI. Epilogue

Notes 211
References 215
Source Material 225
Index 229

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Howard Wainer is distinguished research scientist at the National Board of Medical Examiners and adjunct professor of statistics at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. His many books include "Graphic Discovery".

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