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Super Crunchers: Why Thinking-by-Numbers Is…
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Super Crunchers: Why Thinking-by-Numbers Is the New Way to Be Smart

by Ian Ayres

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Read Dolly's review, too: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/409145842

I've noticed a theme in my reading lately. I'm apparently getting fed up with learning just how poorly our intuitions work ([b:Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain|9827912|Incognito The Secret Lives of the Brain|David Eagleman|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1348669116s/9827912.jpg|14423132], [b:Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions|1713426|Predictably Irrational The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions|Dan Ariely|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1255573980s/1713426.jpg|3074803], etc.) and am looking for ideas about how to overcome those fallibilities. So I read a couple of books by Dr. [a:Nortin M. Hadler|490348|Nortin M. Hadler|https://www.goodreads.com/assets/nophoto/user/u_50x66-d9f6a4a5badfda0f69e70cc94d962125.png] and learned about how much medicine & health care rely on bad science. And then I read [b:Bad Science|3272165|Bad Science|Ben Goldacre|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1327251503s/3272165.jpg|3308349], which turned out to focus mainly on health care.

And then I read Ayres. And I have hope. With more and more data available because of the digital revolution, and with more and more people becoming comfortable with using data & technology and with international collaborative efforts (think, for example, about the database of books and reviews here on goodreads), we will have more good science to help us make more rational decisions. For example, evidence-based medicine will become a given, not a controversy, as more studies are published online, and patients can check for themselves which treatments have been demonstrated to be effective.

Ayres' book is more inclusive than just healthcare, though. Gearheads are having their turn in the sun in baseball with sabermetrics, in wine with Orley Ashenfelter and his Journal of Wine Economics," and in travel with Farecast (which has apparently not done so well since being sold to Bing, but oh well).

The film industry has benefited from Epagogix. "There will always be legitimate and unresolvable tensions between artistic and commercial goals. However, there should be no disagreement that it's a tragedy to mistakenly interfere.... Epagogix is moving us toward evidence-based interference."

Businesses of all kinds could benefit from hiring gearheads. Jo-Ann, the sewing & craft chain, decided to test the sale "Buy two sewing machines and save 10%." Seems silly, no? But what happened is that people were effectively becoming sales agents and recruiting friends to buy the second machine, thus each saving money, with a win-win all around. How did Jo-Ann figure out what was happening? By counting click-throughs comparing this sale to another iin randomized testing. Ayres even tested the title of the book during pre-publication - the current title clearly beat out his first choice: "The End of Intuition." (You can try, if the link still works, Lulu.com/titlescorer.)

Of course, Ayres does take pains to point out that intuition has value. He does try really hard to find fields that would be better off letting humans continue to solve problems, instead of computers. But mostly he fails. What humans, and their intuition, are still needed for is to set up the tests. We are necessary because computers cannot figure out what questions to ask. You (I hope) remember from your science fairs at school that the problem must be defined, and the hypothesis stated clearly, before tests can be run - and this still holds true.

Too much to explain here, so read the book: Learn the 2SD rule when trying to come up with estimates. Understanding standard deviation (and it's really not that hard) will help you come up with a more accurate estimate of the mean. Also, learn the bit about Bayes' equation so you can understand better "how to update an initial probability given a new piece of evidence."

Other links to try. For healthcare: Infotriever, DynaMed, and FIRSTConsult. For Ayres' datasets: www.law.yale.edu/ayres/

All this good information is presented in a book that's highly readable, even entertaining. I will look for more by the author.


" ( )
  Cheryl_in_CC_NV | Jun 6, 2016 |
A must read for anyone wanting to understand better how important decision are made. ( )
  ndpmcIntosh | Mar 21, 2016 |
Break out Anova and Regression - everything can be "crunched". Written for a general audience to make statistical analysis and blind, random studies interesting. Talks about differences discovered and models created as if they had great explanatory power (without more than a brief mention of omitted variables, heteroskedasticity, multicollinearity, or other statistical gremlins!). Overall, a "fun" read due to the linkage of statistics to common issues and observations. ( )
  deldevries | Jan 31, 2016 |
Very interesting! ( )
  Jen.ODriscoll.Lemon | Jan 23, 2016 |
Very interesting! ( )
  Jen.ODriscoll.Lemon | Jan 23, 2016 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0553805401, Hardcover)

Why would a casino try and stop you from losing? How can a mathematical formula find your future spouse? Would you know if a statistical analysis blackballed you from a job you wanted?

Today, number crunching affects your life in ways you might never imagine. In this lively and groundbreaking new book, economist Ian Ayres shows how today's best and brightest organizations are analyzing massive databases at lightening speed to provide greater insights into human behavior. They are the Super Crunchers. From internet sites like Google and Amazon that know your tastes better than you do, to a physician's diagnosis and your child's education, to boardrooms and government agencies, this new breed of decision makers are calling the shots. And they are delivering staggeringly accurate results. How can a football coach evaluate a player without ever seeing him play? Want to know whether the price of an airline ticket will go up or down before you buy? How can a formula outpredict wine experts in determining the best vintages? Super crunchers have the answers. In this brave new world of equation versus expertise, Ayres shows us the benefits and risks, who loses and who wins, and how super crunching can be used to help, not manipulate us.

Gone are the days of solely relying on intuition to make decisions. No businessperson, consumer, or student who wants to stay ahead of the curve should make another keystroke without reading Super Crunchers.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:44 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Gone are the days of solely relying on intuition to make decisions. Today, number crunching affects your life in ways you might never imagine. Economist Ian Ayres shows how today's organizations are analyzing massive databases at lightning speed to provide greater insights into human behavior. From Web sites like Google and Amazon that know your tastes, to a physician's diagnosis or your child's education, to boardrooms and government agencies, this new breed of decisionmakers are calling the shots. And they are delivering staggeringly accurate results. How can a football coach evaluate a player without ever seeing him play? How can a formula outpredict wine experts in determining the best vintages? Super crunchers have the answers. In this brave new world of equation versus expertise, Ayres shows us the benefits and risks, who loses and who wins, and how super crunching can be used to help, not manipulate us.--From publisher description.… (more)

» see all 5 descriptions

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