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Did you know that having a messy room will make you racist? Or that human beings possess the ability to postpone death until after important ceremonial occasions? Or that people live three to five years longer if they have positive initials, like ACE? All of these 'facts' have been argued with a straight face by researchers and backed up with reams of data and convincing statistics. As Nobel Prize-winning economist Ronald Coase once cynically observed, 'If you torture data long enough, it will confess.' Lying with statistics is a time-honoured con.
In Standard Deviations, economics professor Gary Smith walks us through the various tricks and traps that people use to back up their own crackpot theories. Sometimes, the unscrupulous deliberately try to mislead us. Other times, the well-intentioned are blissfully unaware of the mischief they are committing. Today, data are so plentiful that researchers spend precious little time distinguishing between good, meaningful deductions and total rubbish. Not only do others use data to fool us, we fool ourselves.
Drawing on breakthrough research in behavioural economics by luminaries like Daniel Kahneman and Dan Ariely, and taking to task some of the conclusions of Freakonomics author Steven D. Levitt, Standard Deviations demystifies the science behind statistics and brings into stark relief the fraud that surrounds us all.
Please note: the difference between the £12.99 and £9.99 paperback version is that the former is a trade paperback, whereas the latter is a mass-market paperback (also see this entry on Wikipedia for the difference between the two).
Gary Smith received his PhD in Economics from Yale University and taught there for seven years. He is the Fletcher Jones Professor of Economics at Pomona College in Claremont, California. This is his first book for general readers.