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Teacher tenure is a problem. Teacher tenure is a solution. Fracking is safe. Fracking causes earthquakes. Our kids are over-tested. Our kids are not tested enough. We read claims like these in the newspaper, often with no justification other than 'it feels right'. How can we figure out what is right? Escaping from the clutches of truthiness begins with one question: 'what is the evidence?' With his usual verve, and disdain for pious nonsense, Howard Wainer offers a refreshing fact-based view of complex problems in a multitude of fields, with special emphasis in education, showing how to evaluate the evidence, or lack thereof, supporting various kinds of claims. His primary tool is causal inference: how can we convincingly demonstrate the cause of an effect? This wise book is a must-read for anyone who's ever wanted to challenge the pronouncements of authority figures and a captivating narrative that entertains and educates at the same time.
Part I. Thinking Like a Data Scientist
1. How the rule of 72 can provide guidance to advance your wealth, your career and your gas mileage
2. Piano virtuosos and the four-minute mile
3. Happiness and causal inference
4. Causal inference and death
5. Using experiments to answer four vexing questions
6. Causal inferences from observational studies: fracking, injection wells, earthquakes, and Oklahoma
7. Life follows art: gaming the missing data algorithm
Part II. Communicating Like a Data Scientist
8. On the crucial role of empathy in the design of communications: genetic testing as an example
9. Improving data displays: the media's, and ours
10. Inside-out plots
11. A century and a half of moral statistics: plotting evidence to affect social policy
Part III. Applying the Tools of Data Science to Education
12. Waiting for Achilles
13. How much is tenure worth?
14. Detecting cheating badly: if it could have been, it must have been
15. When nothing is not zero: a true saga of missing data, adequate yearly progress, and a Memphis charter school
16. Musing about changes in the SAT: is the college board getting rid of the bulldog?
17. For want of a nail: why worthless subscores may be seriously impeding the progress of western civilization
Howard Wainer is a Distinguished Research Scientist at the National Board of Medical Examiners. He has published more than 400 articles and chapters in scholarly journals and books.
"This book is like the proverbial bag of potato chips. It's impossible to stop reading after just one of its fun and thought-provoking examples of statistical reasoning."
– Andrew Gelman, Columbia University
"Howard Wainer persuasively argues that you cannot be an informed citizen unless you understand the new data science. Using examples and anecdotes from education, medicine, and elsewhere, he arms readers with tools they can use to make better decisions and a better world. And he does it with the ease, charm, and brilliance of the originator of truthiness."
– Arthur E. Wise, President Emeritus, National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education
"[This is] compelling reading on contemporary topics that exemplifies how to think clearly about the busy world around us [...] Wainer gets more clever over the years, finding deeper anecdotes, discovering better quotes, and writing with more grace than ever."
– Ben Shneiderman, University of Maryland
"Wainer has taken a leap forward with his new book, Truth or Truthiness. He has shown that he can take on complex issues using the basic premise that our new societal norm addresses policy solely through inference while lacking supportive evidence. With his usual interesting and direct style, Wainer looks at this lack of data support in examining societal issues, especially education. This is truly a compelling read and I think should be required reading for those who set educational policy."
– Kurt Landgraf, President and CEO, Educational Testing Service, 2000–2013
"Howard Wainer was an expert witness in cases where I defended public school teachers who were accused of changing students' answers on standardized tests. I implored him to explain his theories in terms that would be understandable to lay people. Truth and Truthiness makes clear that he took this to heart."
– Keith J. Zimmerman, Kahn, Smith and Collins, P. A., Baltimore