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Probably Overthinking It

How to Use Data to Answer Questions, Avoid Statistical Traps, and Make Better Decisions

An essential guide to the ways data can improve decision making.
Statistics are everywhere: in news reports, at the doctor’s office, and in every sort of forecast, from the stock market to the weather report. Blogger, teacher, and computer scientist Allen B. Downey knows well that we have both an innate ability to understand statistics and to be fooled by them. As he makes clear in this accessible introduction to statistical thinking, the stakes are big. Simple misunderstandings have led to incorrect patient prognoses, underestimated the likelihood of large earthquakes, hindered social justice efforts, and resulted in dubious policy decisions. There are right and wrong ways to look at numbers, and Downey will help you see which is which.
Probably Overthinking It uses real data to delve into real examples with real consequences, drawing on cases from health campaigns, political beliefs, chess rankings, and more. He lays out common pitfalls—like the base rate fallacy, length-biased sampling, and Simpson’s paradox—and shines a light on what we learn when we interpret data correctly, and what goes wrong when we don’t. Using data visualizations instead of equations, he builds understanding from the basics to help you recognize errors—whether in your own thinking or media reports. Even if you have never studied statistics—or if you have and forgot everything you learned—this book will offer new insight into the methods and measurements that help us understand the world.

256 pages | 126 line drawings, 22 tables | 6 x 9

Mathematics and Statistics


“Downey’s pure love for the subject shines through abundantly, as does his social conscience and belief in the importance of statistical methods to illuminate the greatest, most challenging issues of our time.”

Aubrey Clayton, author of Bernoulli’s Fallacy: Statistical Illogic and the Crisis of Modern Science

Probably Overthinking It shows how fascinating and interesting statistics can be. Readers don’t need to be expert mathematicians. They just need to bring their curiosity about the world.”

Ravin Kumar, data scientist at Google

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