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Michael Blastland and Andrew Dilnot

The Tiger that Isn't

The media are constantly trying to get our attention by proclaiming some shocking statistic or other. InThe Tiger That Isn't: Seeing Through a World of Numbers Michael Blastland and Andrew Dilnot help the reader to judge such proclamations - are they really as shocking as they seem.

The book starts with the question 'Is that a big number', and shows that it all depends on the context - just because a number has lots of zeros on the end doesn't mean that is particularly big. The authors also show the importance of knowing what is being counted - '1 in 4 teenage boys is a criminal' was the headline of one paper, but it turned out that this included anyone who had had a fight with a sibling. The book goes on to look at how to judge the significance of a statement - is it just due to chance - and at the perils of sampling, and of making comparisons between two statistics. There are also chapters on the problems with setting targets - how trying to cut hospital waiting lists may create more problems that it solves - and on our attitude to risk - we worry about tiny dangers while ignoring the big risks.

What I liked about this book was that the authors weren't trying to look smart by showing defects the reader's intuition about probability. Rather they target the media and polititians, who one thinks out to think through their statements more thoroughly. All in all I found it to be an informative and entertaining read.

Note: The book I've linked to for the USA and Canada is The Numbers Game: The Commonsense Guide to Understanding Numbers in the News, in Politics, and in Life. This seems to be essentially the same book as the one I reviewed, although there are a few differences.  |  Chronon Critical Points  |  Recent Science Book Reviews