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Keywords: Statistics, data analysis
Title: Statistics For Dummies
Author: Deborah Rumsey
Verdict: Good for the non-mathematically minded
As a general rule we here at TechBookReport are not big on books that promise instant enlightenment (you know the books we mean - 'J2EE Guru in 24 Minutes', 'XML in 60 Seconds' etc). When that kind of promise is married to a jokey, patronising approach then expect the worst. Which is one reason why we tend not to look at books like 'C# For Morons', 'Perl for the Clueless' and the like. However, in the case of 'Statistics for Dummies' we're prepared to put aside our hard-won prejudices and take a look at what the book has got to offer.
The first thing to note is that the book is clear about what it offers. This is not a formal statistics course. This isn't the sort of book that can get you through that intro stats course that you can't avoid. It might help, of course, but this isn't designed to be used in a class-room. That means no emphasis on formal notation, no proofs, no focus on software tools. If those things are what you need then take a good long look at Intro Stats.
What this book offers is a guided tour around the sort of statistical topics that you are likely to come across every day in the news. It aims to give the average, (non-mathematical), reader the intellectual tools to understand what questions to ask of statistics, and to understand what the different statistics that are quoted really mean. Given the misuse of statistics by advertisers and politicians, these are good skills to have.
Starting with this aim, the book walks the reader gently from the absolute basics of charts through to the different measures of centrality (mean or median), variance and the standard deviation, introductory probability, standard scores and more. The pace is never especially fast and the examples are well-chosen, most of them could have come from today's news reports. At times the tone does veer on the patronising side, but in general it's quite chatty and accessible.
The chapters on hypothesis testing and statistical studies are the real pay-off. It is here that the author really puts it all together and shows the reader how to put statistical studies to the test. Interpreting the significance of this or that result is a skill that most people don't have, and unfortunately lacking that skill means that we never know whether what we are reading is a piece of junk or something really significant.
For the general reader interested in a basic understanding of stats then this is a good book to start from. And, perhaps, even for the student struggling with a stats class and not making sense of the numbers this might make things that little bit clearer.