Naked Statistics by Charles Wheelan

In brief: This is a book on statistics that is both interesting and funny.

The good: The examples are way better than any other lecturer’s.

The not-so-good: I liked to concentrate on the processes described, so it made for a slow read.

Why I chose it: Saw it in store and thought it looked interesting.

Year: 2013

Pages: 282

Publisher: Norton

Setting: New York City and Pittsburgh

My rating: 9 out of 10

It’s probably obvious, but Naked Statistics is a book about statistics. Like the title suggests, it strips back the concepts to basics in easy to understand examples. I’ve studied statistics at both undergrad and postgrad level but never really gotten into the depths of analysis. I know about the normal distribution and t- tests and p values but it’s only recently where I’ve had to rely on my knowledge to actually decipher whether studies are useful underneath the analysis. Rather than turn to a textbook, I decided to give this book a go after seeing it in a bookshop.

Naked Statistics is definitely more fun than a textbook. It starts with the very basic concepts (mean, median and mode) and works its way up to regression analysis. It builds on the concepts learned and applies them to both realistic and fantastic situations (such as bus hunting for terrorists on the hunt for food. Luckily, it just happens to be the International Festival of Sausage, which calms them down nicely). The equations and letters x, y and n are few and far between (but are included in appendices if you want to revisit them).

My favourite part of the book is the examples. Sometimes they are funny (like the International Festival of Sausage), sometimes the examples are ripped straight from the headlines. It shows the science behind the spin of predicting presidential candidates to whether going to a famous college like Harvard means you will earn more (you won’t). If you already question the media when it comes to polls, the chapter on them will be fascinating. It shows how information can be skewed using statistics to get the result you want. A lot of this relies on the samples taken – ‘garbage in, garbage out’ (i.e. if you choose a biased sample, such as supporters at a Trump rally, of course you will get a high percentage voting for him. This sample is not reflective of the entire American population).

The language that Wheelan uses to describe the concepts is easy to read and easy to understand. I had flashbacks of remembering the dry statistics from uni and it was refreshing to read them described in a different way (which was also way more interesting). I didn’t find it patronising, even the mean/median/mode section (when we had this as a 2 hour postgrad lecture, my friends and I spent the time wandering in and out, buying chips and lollies and writing notes to each other because we deemed ourselves above this). I really wish my lecturers had read this book!

However, you don’t need previous knowledge of statistics to enjoy this book. You will find that you’ve been exposed to a lot of these methods in the world around you. I enjoyed this book so much that I’m going to read Wheelan’s Naked Economics, a subject I know less about (but again, need to learn about for work reasons). I’m sure he’s going to make any subject he turns to interesting.

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2 thoughts on “Naked Statistics by Charles Wheelan

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  1. It sounds as though this book should be a pre requisite for studying statistics. It may make people become enthused before they become bored.

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