Author Tim Harford Offers A Lifeline To All Of Us Drowning In Data

Understanding data and statistics is an indispensable skill in virtually every aspect of almost any professional career, including the law and insurance claims.  Frankly, it should be an arrow in the critical thought quiver of any citizen and part of curriculum at every level of education.  In his latest book, The Data Detective, Tim Harford offers incredibly useful insights into analyzing and understanding the massive amounts of data we consume daily.  Harford, a Financial Times (UK) columnist and BBC broadcaster, is also a prolific author of numerous books.   According to Harford, The Data Detectives offers insights “about how to think clearly about the world, by being wiser about statistics and wiser about ourselves and our cognitive biases.”


In The Data Detective Harford offers “Ten Statistical Commandments”, or rules of thumb, in assessing statistics. According to Harford, we should:

1. Learn to stop and notice our emotional reactions to a claim, rather than accepting or rejecting it because of how it makes us feel.

2. Look for ways to combine the bird’s eye statistical perspective with the worms eye view from personal experience.

3. Look at the labels we are given and ask if we understand what is being described.

4. Look for comparisons and context, putting any claim into perspective.

5. Look behind the statistics, at where they came from, and what other data may have vanished into obscurity.

6. Ask who is missing from the data we are being shown and whether our conclusions might differ if they were included.

7. Ask tough questions about algorithms and the big data sets that drive them, recognizing that without intelligent openness they cannot be trusted.

8. Pay more attention to the bedrock of official statistics and the sometimes heroic statisticians who protect it.

9.  Look under the surface of any beautiful graph or chart.  

10. Keep an open mind, asking how we might be mistaken and whether the facts have changed.


You may purchase Harford’s book here, , , your local bookseller or at other online sellers. Harford also does a fabulous podcast, Cautionary Tales, which returns for its second season on February 26.  You may access and subscribe to Cautionary Tales, a Pushkin Industries production, wherever you get your podcasts.