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The Norm Chronicles

 

This is an important book and fits comfortably with “Thinking, fast and slow”, “Black Swan” and “The Signal and the Noise”.

The authors explore the evaluation and communication of risk through fictional characters: Norm, Prudence and the Kelvins and their journey’s through life. Norm is the average man who uses reason and probability/statistics to traverse the challenges of life. Prudence is extremely risk averse and views the world through a lens of fear. The Kelvins are the risk-takers, the daredevils.  Each chapter is themed on an important part of everyday life associated with risk. The chapter begins with a vignette in the lives of  the characters, The vignette is followed by a clear, extremely interesting and sometimes provocative look at the data.

This book is brave in the scope of issues it covers and its honest discussion of the tension between our fast and slow thinking aspects of our brains (to use Kahneman’s characterization).  Topics such as transport, crime, sex, , hralthcare, unemployment, aging and death.  The issues of framing, availability bias, our propensity to over and under-estimate risks are covered well.

The complex philosophical issues of what is probability, and do humans act rationally and the complexity of decision making are discussed. The authors arrive at a compassionate pragmatic view that probability is a tool that is our best bet for an event based on the available information that can be updated with new information. A  tool that we can use to deal with uncertainty. The authors demonstrates a number of complex tools in understandable methods: the power of graphically visualizing data, the importance of realizing the expected values versus observed (example of Poisson model of murder rates), and the limitations our predictions.

I admit that I was not as much interested in  the fictional narrative as the discussion of the data and its interpretation and limitation.,  This is an important, brave, at times  humorous and clearly written book that should help us all think more clearly and risk and consequences.

 

 

 

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