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The Dark Art of Statistical Deception

November 3, 2010

Tara Parker-Pope in NYT:

Will sprinters one day break the sound barrier? Do Olympic athletes win more medals if they wear red? And can a simple formula predict happiness?

While those questions may sound absurd, various studies have found a way to prove them true through statistical manipulation of numbers and data. The tendency of academics, politicians and pundits to generate such numerical falsehoods from data — and the tendency of the public to believe the results — is a phenomenon cleverly explored in the new bookProofiness: The Dark Arts of Mathematical Deception,” by Charles Seife.

Mr. Seife, a writer and professor of journalism at New York University, makes a compelling case that numbers have a unique hold on the human mind, and that we are routinely bamboozled by phony data, bogus statistics and bad math. I recently spoke with Mr. Seife, whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The Economist and elsewhere, about the role that proofiness plays in health and medical research. Here’s our conversation. [More]


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