Comment of the Week

Why We Should All Care About the Messy Business of Numbers

Marker readers weigh in on the relevance of statistics in modern society

Carol Yepes / Getty Images

Earlier this week, Marker launched: “I Read It So You Don’t Have To,” a new series by Senior Books Editor Kaushik Viswanath that gives you the TL;DR on a business book you want to read but (let’s face it) will never have time to. For the inaugural edition, Viswanath reviewed Tim Harford’s The Data Detective: Ten Easy Rules to Make Sense of Statistics, which he called an entertaining tour through the many ways in which we can learn to ask the right questions when snuffing out data and statistics. How do you separate useful stats from misleading ones? What might get left out of what seems like a surprising data point?”

Marker reader and educator Cynthia Wylie weighed in on the perils of data manipulation but ultimately stressed the importance of using statistics as a tool to help us investigate reality: “I was an economist once upon a time, and I also taught statistics and econometrics to undergrads,” she writes. “Thank you for your review of this subject. People should know that statistics can be manipulated easily to show just about anything anyone wants. But if you know what you’re doing, you can get to the truth.”

Another reader took data literacy very seriously: “Books like these are definitely of great importance, but I would like to see this topic be heavily emphasized in middle school and high school,” FanchenBao writes. “This might sound provocative, but here it is: I think a student should not be allowed to graduate if they cannot identify clear manipulation of stats. I believe this is crucial for the well-being of society.”

Up next: Viswanath will be reading and covering GE CEO Jeff Immelt’s book about how he steered Thomas Edison’s venerated company into the ditch.

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