Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Guest Review: Wrong

Summary:  Our investments are devastated, obesity is epidemic, test scores are in decline, blue-chip companies circle the drain, and popular medications turn out to be ineffective and even dangerous. What happened? Didn't we listen to the scientists, economists and other experts who promised us that if we followed their advice all would be well?

Actually, those experts are a big reason we're in this mess. And, according to acclaimed business and science writer David H. Freedman, such expert counsel
usually turns out to be wrong--often wildly so. Wrong reveals the dangerously distorted ways experts come up with their advice, and why the most heavily flawed conclusions end up getting the most attention-all the more so in the online era. But there's hope: Wrong spells out the means by which every individual and organization can do a better job of unearthing the crucial bits of right within a vast avalanche of misleading pronouncements. -- Little, Brown

I found the premise of WRONG: WHY EXPERTS KEEP FAILING US AND HOW TO KNOW WHEN NOT TO TRUST THEM by David H. Freedman to be extremely interesting, and it I had a feeling that it was a book that would appeal to my dad. I think you'll agree that this book makes some very good points... as does Booking Pap Pap's review. Here are his thoughts:

WRONG: WHY EXPERTS KEEP FAILING US AND HOW TO KNOW WHEN NOT TO TRUST THEM by David H. Freedman  is a book about the ways that experts of all ilk including scientist, management, media, economics and even the social network so often fail us. 

Freedman explains that many factors contribute to the current state of misleading scientific studies including the natural bias of the scientists, the human desire for quick solutions to complex problems and a sensation seeking media.  Even the competition among leading research universities vying for limited funds results in some erroneous scientific results.

Freedman argues that we all put too much trust in scientific studies that should be questioned.  His examples of studies with flawed results cover things such as popular medications, obesity, and stem cell research.  He contends that 2/3 of all medical findings published in medical journals are refuted within a few years.

The author also challenges the work of organizational experts who advise us of the best way to manage a company, financial experts who tell us the best place to put our money, sports experts who determine the best players and teams, and informal experts who tell of the best schools, best hospitals, and best cars.  He argues that these so-called experts are often peddling bad advice.

WRONG also takes on the media by pointing out that they are a ready partner reporting on studies without sufficiently reason checking the results.  A gullible public is also a willing participant in that they tend to believe everything the so-called experts say even when the results are too good to be true.  Freedman praises the information that is available on the social networks but cautions that expert information on the web is likely to have even less scrutiny than occurs in traditional media.

Freedman offers a simple solution to the problem.  Use some common sense and a little skepticism in evaluating experts in any field.

An interesting aspect of the book is that Freedman may be guilty of the same issues he criticizes.  He is a member of the media and an expert that quotes other experts to make his points.  Is it possible that his natural bias came into play in only selecting experts and studies that suit his arguments?  The author actually addresses this issue in an Appendix, although I’m not sure his argument is completely successful.

This book is not for the casual reader but anyone curious about the way experts go about their business might want to read WRONG.  Some of Freedman’s examples of bad expert advice and conclusions are of interest because they generally impact our everyday lives.
Thanks to the publisher for sending a review copy of this book and to Booking Pap Pap for his insightful review.


Sandy Nawrot said...

I could do a study that would indicate all females born on the Summer Solstice between the years of 1952 and 1982 will win the lottery. As someone who was once in the business of numbers and analysis, I know this to be a fact. You can make them say whatever the hell you want. God help us if one day there IS a study that reveals something earth-shattering, because nobody (or at least I) will not believe it.

Beth F said...

Everyone -- and I mean *everyone* should have to take at least two statistic classes in college. It's the only way one has even the remotest chance to decipher what the numbers may really mean.

bermudaonion said...

This sounds fascinating and like something everyone should read!

I'm always leery when they come out with new scientific studies because quite often they've only studied a handful of people.

I also think you've got to take college rankings with a grain of salt - all the schools have learned how to manipulate them.

Rebecca Rasmussen said...

This does sound interesting -- yikes! I did not take statistics class, but wish I did ;)

Beth Hoffman said...

Hmmm ...I think I should read this. I really enjoyed your review, Julie!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I've heard many good things about this book. Thanks for the great review, Booking Pap Pap!!!