on November 29, 2009 by eldar in Reviews, Comments (0)

Book review: The Flaw of Averages

The Flaw of Averages: Why We Underestimate Risk in the Face of Uncertainty (Hardcover) by Sam L. Savage – Wiley (June 9, 2009), ISBN-10: 0471381977, ISBN-13: 978-0471381976, 416 pages

I’ve seen reviews of this book starting with “if you have no clue about statistics…” Unfortunately, that’s a lot of people, even worse, a lot of people who have no clue about statistics think otherwise. If you fall into this category, this book is a good read, which will expose for you a lot of interesting things about what you can and what you cannot do when your data are influenced by a chance. Even if you do, but you have let your knowledge get rusty, this book would be a good reminder.

Also, the actual material of this almost 500 pages book can be delivered in about 20-30 pages, which is a very good ratio for the most US published books.

However, I still did not like this book, specifically, for two reasons.

First of all, the author (according to his own testament) is not a professional mathematician, but software developer. That’s ok by itself, but as a result, while he has a good idea what he is talking about, he occasionally makes mistakes or uses completely wrong approaches. For example, in one of chapters he introduces a device to get a random number between 0 and 11 (kind of roulette) and then instead of giving the distribution this device provides, he expects the reader to assume that (which is one of huge flaws when working with data samples) and even worse, to “prove” it without actual data — a certain “F” in any “Statistics 101″ class, and for a good reason.

Second, his style is not that conductive to learning, even if you can recognize when he misses the target. For example, to explain “black swans”, he gives an example with the same device, when “the arrow does not stop but breaks off and hit you in the eye”. The “eye” part is certainly over the board and an amateur educator may think it helps to remember, while it actually hurts digesting the material.

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