MDB Insight Blog

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More Interesting Reading

#WednesdayswithMDBInsight – This week, the team from our Market Research & Analytics division shares two more titles from their recommended reading list.

Storytelling with Data: a data visualization guide for business professionals by Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic (Wiley, 2015)

This is essentially a book about data visualization, but it features an important central theme – using data to tell a story. That’s something our market research team does every day, with a vast array of data from multiple sources.

The author includes plenty of examples that help to show the ways data can both inform and engage. She provides encouragement for those wanting to find ways to share complex analytics with clear explanations and visually compelling graphics.

A good resource for moving beyond stale charts and pie graphs, this book will help you tell the story behind your data in ways that will get attention.

Proofiness: How You're Being Fooled by the Numbers by Charles Seife (Penguin Books, 2011) 

There’s a fitting John Adams quote at the beginning of Proofiness - Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.

image2-5What Seife calls the use of “bogus mathematical arguments” (one reviewer termed it “mathematical hoodwinking” and the Boston Globe called it “quantitative bamboozlement”), the misleading use of numbers is what’s at the core of this book. Seife pokes around at elections (polling, vote counting, even cheating) and our incessant need for metrics, whether about sprint track speeds or the reported demise of natural blonds (yes, that was predicted to happen by 2022 until later rebuffed as fake news). Our love affair with numbers has given us genuine insights as well as sending us down ridiculous (sometimes hilarious, sometimes threatening) rabbit holes. For, as Seife points out, there are numbers and then there are numbers.

Pure numbers are the domain of mathematicians—curious people who study numbers in the abstract, as Platonic ideals that reveal a higher truth. To a mathematician, a number is interesting in its own right. Not so for the rest of us.

For a nonmathematician, numbers are interesting only when they give us information about the world. A number only takes on any significance in everyday life when it tells us how many pounds we’ve gained since last month or how many dollars it will cost to buy a sandwich or how many weeks are left before our taxes are due or how much money is left in our IRAs. We don’t care about the properties of the number five. Only when that number becomes attached to a unit—the “pounds” or “dollars” or “weeks” that signify what real-world property the number represents—does it become interesting to a nonmathematician.

Seife’s previous books include Zero (“the strangest number known to humankind”), a New York Times notable book and winner of the PEN/Martha Albrand Award for first nonfiction. His perspectives on popular math and the manipulation of numbers for mainstream influence are offered up in clear and entertaining fashion.

So, what of that mathematical formula for the perfect butt? Is that business deal really as foolproof as described? According to Seife, understanding proofiness is our best defense against powerful falsehoods and flimflam.

Whether you check out these titles for your own use or pick one up as a gift for the data-curious on your list, we hope you find them interesting.

Our Wednesdays with MDB Insight posts feature the thinkers and doers on our team sharing ideas and talking about what’s important to us as professionals. Look for these posts every Wednesday, join the conversation with us, and let us know what’s on your mind mid-week. 

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