I've just finished reading The Drunkard's Walk by Leonard Mlodinow. Initially, I was concerned that this was yet another lightweight review of the basic concepts of statistics and probability, but Mlodinow skillfully delivers the conclusion in a way that leaves you feeling you have a deeper understanding of everything from personal choices to media hype.
The key topics that are discussed are:
- The history and sometimes uphill struggle of the mathematics of chance - a branch of human understanding that had to battle with the tyranny of superstition and religious control.
- The basic tools and big ideas of statistics and probability, from the law of large numbers to the normal distribution to Bayesian inference.
- The many demonstrations of our evolutionary bias towards finding patterns when in fact there is only randomness (confirmation bias, survivor bias).
- The profound importance of understanding that with large experiment sets, even with random outcomes someone will always appear to do well and 'beat the odds' (the hot-hand).
In addition to bewailing the lack of data literacy in our media and more importantly the part of the population that consumes this media, I'm now going to bewail the lack of randomness literacy (although surely there is a better name for it).