Understanding the “little data” is what will help you make smarter decisions in every aspect of your life.
Boston, MA (PRWEB) April 12, 2016
The Global Information Industry Center reports that the average American – whether through emails, newspapers, weather forecasts, or fitness trackers – consumes roughly 34 gigabytes of data each and every day.
And while we know that a gigabyte is a unit of information equal to one billion letters or numbers, it’s hard to imagine how much data that actually is – let alone how our minds can absorb and interpret it. Whether it’s at work or home, this constant stream of data affects the decisions we make in every aspect of our lives.
Yet all too often, we make these decisions without fully considering the data that drives them. In their new book, EVERYDATA: The Misinformation Hidden in the Little Data You Consume Every Day (Bibliomotion, Inc.; Hardcover; April 12, 2016) John H. Johnson, PhD, leading economist and statistician, and co-author Mike Gluck teach readers to become effective, discerning consumers by explaining how to correctly interpret all the small bytes of data you encounter throughout the day (the “everydata.”)
Drawing on examples of misinterpreted data from the realms of health, parenting, business, politics, retail, and more, the authors show how easy it is to be misled by statistics, for example:
- Nine out of 10 people throw out food that’s OK to eat because they misinterpret expiration dates
- Auto manufacturers misrepresent data so you can keep driving even when your gas tank is “empty”
- Millions of pregnant women avoid caffeine because they interpret correlation as causation
- One-third of parents mistakenly believe that vaccines cause autism
- The Electoral College system responsible for “red states” and “blue states” masks significant variations in the data
Each chapter presents a key data concept – from sampling and correlation vs. causation to cherry picking and forecasting – which builds upon the next. The result is an accessible primer on how to become an educated and critical consumer of data, one that entertains as it informs. You don’t need to perform sophisticated statistical analyses or spend days wading through studies and white papers in order to be smart about data. By recognizing the most common traps, asking good questions, and maintaining a healthy sense of skepticism, you will be well on your way to making better, more informed decisions.
Armed with practical guidance, readers of EVERYDATA will come away with the concrete tools they need to decide what to believe, what to question, and what to ignore.
HOW TO BE A SOUND CONSUMER OF DATA
Recognize data when you see and hear it. A newspaper article is data. A radio story is data. An email newsletter from a vendor is data. Your kid’s report card is data. Next week’s sales forecast is data. A map is data. Wherever you live, whatever you do, you’re likely surrounded by data each and every day.
Get your facts right. All too often, poor decisions or data issues are simply the result of a mistake. Perhaps there’s a wrong formula in a spreadsheet, or a misplaced decimal point in a key value. How else would 17,000 British men be recorded as pregnant if not for a coding error? One of the very first steps you should take is to verify that the data you’re seeing is, in fact, accurate.
Understand where the data is coming from, and who is presenting it. In some cases, the person or organization may have an agenda, which means they may tailor the data (or cherry pick it, if you will) to fit their message. After all, you don’t typically hear of a coal company pushing for more solar energy. Even in cases where there is no obvious agenda, the data you consume typically comes from somewhere, is collected somehow and is distributed by someone - all factors that can influence what ultimately ends up in front of you.
Watch out for the common data traps. There’s a good chance you can open your favorite paper (or go to their website) and find a story that implies causation, when the only proven relationship in the data is a correlation. What are some other issues you’re fairly likely to encounter on a regular basis, in our experience? Small sample sizes, findings that aren’t statistically significant (or are statistically significant but have a very small effect), averages used deceptively, and misleading visuals - including infographics.
Leverage the tools in this book to make better decisions. Ultimately, people will never stop abusing data, intentionally or not. What you can do though is spend an extra minute thinking critically about what was just presented to you. In time, this will become second-nature. How much higher will your company’s sales be next quarter? Is the newest study about cancer-causing foods something you should worry about? What is the right price to pay for that summer home? Take the questions that will have the biggest impact on your life and see how you can use the tools in this book to answer them.
John H. Johnson, PhD is President and CEO of Edgeworth Economics, and a professional economist, expert witness, author, and speaker. In 2009, Dr. Johnson left his role as Vice President of a globally-recognized consultancy to pursue the endeavor that would become Edgeworth Economics, a start-up that reimagined and innovated half-century old industry standards. In these few short years, Edgeworth has grown from six to 80 staff across the US and become one of the world’s premier economic consulting firms. Dr. Johnson is known internationally for his ability to explain highly sophisticated concepts in a simple, straightforward manner and brings this skill to his consulting, writing, and speaking.
At Edgeworth, Dr. Johnson provides consulting and expert testimony for Fortune 100 clients, trade groups, and government agencies. In his litigation work, he guides companies and outside counsel on the appropriate use and interpretation of complex data sets, and has served as expert witness in some of today’s most high-stakes corporate lawsuits.
On the business analytics side, Dr. Johnson helps companies translate their complex internal data sets into strategic, actionable information across a variety of business settings including human resources, finance, marketing, manufacturing, and business intelligence.
Both aspects share the need to understand—and properly apply—large, complex sets of data. He applies this same skill to his writing and speaking, where he helps audiences avoid the most common pitfalls people make when confronted with data, so they can become more confident and discerning consumers of data and make better decisions in their professional and personal lives.
Dr. Johnson is a frequent presenter on economic topics and the use of data, and has also authored numerous papers across his areas of expertise.
Dr. Johnson received a PhD in Economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his BA in Economics with Highest Distinction from the University of Rochester. He lives with his wife and two children in McLean, Virginia.
Mike Gluck is an award-winning writer and marketer who has written for leading organizations nationwide. He has led the creation of multi-million dollar advertising campaigns, and has worked on behalf of Time Warner Cable, Fisher-Price, the Pittsburgh Penguins, and Riverside Health System, among others. As President of Gluckworks – a copywriting and marketing firm in Buffalo, NY – Mike’s expertise is making complex topics easy to understand. He graduated from Johns Hopkins University.
AN INTERVIEW WITH JOHN H. JOHNSON, PhD AND MIKE GLUCK
Q: What is “Everydata”?
A: Every day we encounter massive amounts of information from our smartphones, computers, radio, and television. Over the last four years the amount of information in the entire world has doubled. There are estimates that suggest a single person consumes dozens of pickup trucks worth of data on a daily basis. Yet, we as individuals have very little training and experience in interpreting this information that we consume. Our book is about how you can be a better consumer of this Everydata that you see in your daily life.
Q: It seems as though Big Data has been at the forefront of data analysis and decision making for the past decade or so. What would you say are the main differences between Big Data and Small Data, and how we use them?
A: Big data is a ubiquitous term that refers to giant data sets that often comprise information on consumer behavior and prices and are processed on computers or large servers by data analysts and scientists. When we talk about little data, we are actually talking about the data that you, myself, and everyone else see every day: the grades on your children’s report cards; the number of steps on your smart watch; your morning email containing ten newsletters; the articles in the newspaper; and more. Big data has a very important role in our lives in terms of the way that things are analyzed and thought about, but for you, the average consumer of information, the little data is that which is confronting you and upon which you are making decisions without even realizing it.
Q: How does Everydata have an impact on our daily lives?
A: I picked up the newspaper and saw a story that said if a person drives more than 45 minutes to work, then they are more likely to get divorced. I was watching the news last night that covered how Hillary Clinton lost the Michigan primary even though she was allegedly up twenty points in a poll. I see a new study in the newspaper this morning that says if I drink more coffee then I am less likely to get cancer. All of this information confronts us every day. You don’t have to have a specialized expertise in statistics or data to be able to ask the hard questions that will allow you to understand how to make sense of these data points and put them in their appropriate context.
Q: In the business sector, what do you think is the biggest mistake that managers and/or employees make when interpreting data?
A: The single biggest mistake that I see is when managers or businesspeople interpret anecdotal experiences as if those experiences represent the totality of the information that they need. As humans, we’re conditioned to find patterns, to look for information, to try to process things, to make sense of them, and to make connections. We do this in ways that sometimes exist and sometimes do not. To do this of course, the first place you turn to is your own experiences. Let me give you a simple example: if I go to Starbucks on Monday morning to get a coffee and have the best day I have ever had, does that mean that if I go to get coffee on Tuesday morning at the same Starbucks then I am going to have the same great day? Of course not. And yet every day, we’re confronted as managers and business people, with anecdotal experiences similar to this from which we try to extrapolate and turn into major decisions without looking into the totality of the information available to us.
Q: What are some specific data traps that people should be on the lookout for?
A: One of the biggest data traps that I find people fall into is confusing correlation with causation. We find a lot of statistical patterns in the world that are meaningless. For example, the sale of ice cream is highly correlated with crime over the course of a year. Those two things really have nothing to do with each other, but a statistical relationship—correlation—exists. Correlations we see in our everyday lives are interpreted by many as causal, but the reality is that they are unrelated. Let’s say that every Monday, my dog barks at 8:00 in the morning and at 8:01 the garbage truck comes. Does that mean my dog barking at 8:00 caused the garbage truck to come? No! Clearly, the dog heard the garbage truck before I did and started barking. While an obvious example, one can imagine how easily this can happen when looking at data that isn't as tangible. That’s the kind of thing we do all the time when we look at the newspaper and we see stories. Does grilled cheese improve your sex life? Do longer commutes lead to a higher probability of divorce? If I am a high school athlete, will I earn more money over the course of my lifetime? Fundamentally, these are all questions that were being presented as if they’re causal, but in fact most of what we see are simply correlations.
Q: What’s the first step to consuming data better?
A: Be aware of all the sources of data and information around you. And closely related, use your intuition to ask questions.
Q: What’s next for you both?
A: I wrote the book Everydata because I saw a need to help people better understand this volume of information. I don’t think the volume of data and information in our life is going to get smaller. Rather, it is only going to get larger. I really think there is a void here where I can help people understand the information around them, use it more effectively, and come to better decisions. Just as I continue to do in my professional consulting with my clients, I want to be able to continue educate consumers about data, be able to share some of the great stories about data and get people to be better consumers.
PRAISE FOR EVERYDATA
"This book educates readers on how to navigate the increasingly dense information environment… [Johnson and Gluck] hit key points on the importance of information literacy today." – Publishers Weekly
"This book will make you smarter, faster. Please read it before making decisions or forming opinions of any kind." – Seth Godin, author of Linchpin
"In today’s data-saturated world, knowing how to use and interpret data is a true strategic advantage. In EVERYDATA John and Mike walk us through how we should and shouldn’t use data to make decisions in our lives. They do it simply, clearly, and with unexpected humor! I can’t imagine a more relevant read." – Paul Walsh, VP of Weather Analytics and Meteorologist, The Weather Company
“With fun and verve, John and Mike take us through the essential steps to becoming a sophisticated consumer of the data that surrounds us. Don’t be fooled by the cheerful tone and the lack of grandiose claims: if they succeed in educating us (and I am sure they will), the result will be more discerning consumers, better stewards of their own health, and, most importantly, a better democracy.” – Esther Duflo, professor of Economics, MIT, and co-founder and co-director, J-PAL
“Access to data is a critical driver of knowledge, curiosity, and innovation. But we need to understand how to interpret the data to tap into the wealth of possibility it creates. John and Mike are helping to spread that wealth by teaching us how, in everyday language, to confront the deluge of data we receive every day. An invaluable read!” – Bradley Horowitz, VP, Photos and Streams at Google
“The authors of EVERYDATA have masterfully distilled an applied statistics textbook into a ‘best of,’ highlighting the most relevant and valuable parts we all need to navigate today's world of big data. I cannot recommend this book enough.” – Joshua D. Wright, professor of Law and Economics, George Mason University and former commissioner, Federal Trade Commission
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