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Summer-time is when many people relax, recharge and get ready for the next academic year. Bill Gates is famous for taking reading sabbaticals. Gates’s list includes some that I can recommend.

How to Lie with Statistics [1] is a book that I read as an undergraduate student.  It is short and small and the examples are a bit dated but the logic may be even more valuable now than when it was first written.  While the title makes it seem like a policy manual for a deceptive sales person, this book should be seen as preventative medicine: i.e. how to not be misled by somebody else.  It would be a good preamble to anybody taking a numbers course in the near future, since it shows why the extra work and the fancy terminology discussed in a real stats class adds value.  Listen for the logic behind the notation; what it says is a surprise to many people.

What if is a fun read with great ideas that show the importance of common sense. It is based on a weekly posting which usually start with the same premise: lots of questions seem reasonable in isolation until you think about it in context. The most Canadian question is probably something that every little hockey player dreams of: how hard does a slap shot have to be so that, even if the goalie catches the puck, the momentum is sufficient to score a goal? (Answer: very fast.)

Gates’ list includes some others which I do not know but it looks like I should read them, including one book which claims that “About 45 percent of the students showed no improvement in critical thinking, complex reasoning or written communication during their first two years in college.” We need to work on that one.

PS: In honour of the Pan Am games, the Para Pan Am games and the Canadian Open Championship in golf, some interesting stories about numbers and sports from a recent Economist magazine.

  • First, are athletes becoming better?  The second half of this story goes beyond the simple minded analysis.
  • Second, technology matters when comparing with history, as this story shows.