Posted on May 19th, 2021 at 9:40 am.
Calling Bullshit: The Art of Skepticism in a Data-Driven World (Penguin Random House, 2020) is a much-needed guide for folks awash in numbers who are just trying to make informed decisions. Anyone working or advocating in transportation should read it.
The preface begins with a definition of bullshit and a discussion of its different types. The authors, Carl T. Bergstrom and Jevin D. West, a biologist and a data scientist at the University of Washington, distinguish between old-school and new-school bullshit. Their book focusses on the new-school type which “uses the language of math and science and statistics to create the impression of rigor and accuracy,” and they introduce the concept of “mathiness,” their analog to comedian Stephen Colbert’s “truthiness.” Mathiness refers “to formulas and expressions that may look and feel like math—even as they disregard the logical coherence and formal rigor of actual mathematics.”
Each chapter guides the reader through topics like causality, selection bias, data visualization, and big data, with examples from contemporary news. The result is a topical, fast-paced and laugh-out-loud funny book.