Data in Everyday Life – An Intermission

by Kaetlyn Phillips, Data Services Librarian

I’m interrupting the series on surveys this month for something different.

Image from Monty Python’s Flying Circus (1969-1974)

Well not completely different. I’ll still be talking about data, but instead of diving into Statistic Canada surveys, were going to take a little break and talk about books. I’m often asked about what resources to recommend to people who want to learn more about data. Here are some of my recommendations! The titles below are available by searching QuickFind (except The Data Detective) or through Regina Public Library.

How to Lie With Statistics – Darrell Huff

The classic, the oldie, and the goodie. The book that started the exploration of critical thinking and skepticism in viewing data and statistics. Published in 1954, the practices Huff describes are still being used today. For the people in the back: THE PRACTICES HUFF DESCRIBES ARE STILL BEING USED TODAY!! How to Lie With Statistics is a great work for learning about data visualizations and how they can be deceptive. However, don’t let this be the only book you read on data as it’s overwhelming message is “everyone lies with stats” and that’s simply not the case. While critical thinking about data is important, the book can be cynical and dismissive of all data and statistics. So take the lessons about how visualizations are manipulated, but leave the cynicism behind.

The Data Detective – Tim Hartford

Hartford addresses the cynicism of Huff in the introduction of The Data Detective. This book provides a less cynical and dismissive look at data and instead recommends that when looking at data and statistics, the best thing we can do is be curious. Hartford breaks down his message into 10 rules when approaching data and provides examples of why instant dismissal and skepticism towards data can be just as dangerous as accepting all data as truth. One of my favourite recent reads about data, Hartford encourages a balanced approach to viewing and interpreting statistics that isn’t overly daunting or intimidating.

Calling Bullshit – Carl Bergstrom and Jevin West

Another book about being skeptical about data! This work is a hilarious and frank look at data in the time of social media and misinformation. In particular, it looks at how Big Data and how the all mighty algorithm complicates data comprehension. Overall, this work focuses on using critical thinking and skepticism when looking at all forms of information, not just data, but the lessons discussed in the book also apply to data and statistics.

Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are – Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

This book is a fascinating dive into what big data tells us about human nature. Using big data collected from anonymous search histories, the book provides a never before seen look at human behaviours, prejudices, and patterns. The book explores how big data identifies and tells truths that most humans lie about, while also exploring how big data can be wrong and misused.

So that’s some potential beach reads for everyone as we approach summer! Enjoy!