Book Review – Naked Statistics: Stripping the Dread from the Data

Are you afraid of numbers? Does statistics intimidate you? Charles Wheelan, a professor at Dartmouth College and a former U.S. correspondent for The Economist, swimmingly fissures through all the jargon and graphs to demonstrate the fundamental concepts of statistics and their applications and implications in the real world. In his book, he has endeavored to rip off the intricacies of the subject and accentuate the sexy stuff underneath. Through his book, he demystifies several tedious statistical concepts in a simple and accessible way.

Naked Statistics: Stripping the dead from the data is a book I wished to have read prior to taking a course on statistics at my university.It is long on examples and convinces the reader that statistics is really intriguing and most of it isn’t that difficult. This book is all about intuition. It is short on math, equations and graphs, but when you encounter them, they will have a clear and enlightening purpose. This is neither a textbook nor will it make you a statistician. But, it will make you understand the everyday importance of statistics in decision making.

In a bid to explain both the power and pitfalls of statistical analyses, the author draws on a wide variety of examples ranging from sports, to game shows, to politics, to medical science, to banking and financial markets and so on. Such as why marketers of Schlitz beer were willing to subject their brew to a blind taste test among 100 fans of a rival brand in front of a Super Bowl audience. Next, a discussion on the Monty Hall problem: should contestants on Let’s Make a Deal, faced with three doors, one of which hides a car and two that hide goats, opt to change their selection after the host reveals a goat behind one of the two doors they didn’t pick. Wheelan points out the inferences made from statistical data that underpin much of modern life; from movie suggestions delivered by Netflix, to your chances of developing heart disease, to how casinos makemoney in the long run, to how businesses must assess the risks associated with assorted adverse outcomes, to how insurance companies make money, to recognize patterns that refine how we do everything from selling diapers to catching criminals, to evaluate the effectiveness of policies, programs, drugs, medical procedures and other innovations. They are also easily misunderstood, manipulated or, in rare cases, blatantly wrong.

The absence of hard math is Wheelan’s key motive: statistics should be accessible and intuitive, not just for those who were forced to study it but for anyone interested in the extraordinary power of numbers and data. Consequently, the book starts from the most basic descriptive statistics, like averages, before tackling more daunting theories. The concept of standard error, for instance, might seem frightening: it’s the standard deviation of the sample means. Following which, the reader progresses into the central-limit theorem, which states that for large sample sizes, sample means follow a normal distribution. In doing so, they should not differ remarkably from the overall population or other samples. So what’s the point in that? Wheelan explains it in terms of looking for a missing bus of marathon runners (who are likely to weigh less than the average) and finding one filled with overweight people (who are heading to a sausage festival). Though one or two weighty runners might be on a bus which is going to a marathon, it is unlikely that every seat would be occupied by a plump person. The central-limit theorem enables the riders quantify the prediction that they may have found the wrong bus.And so it leads on. The readers learnthat why insurance for low-cost items is worthless and why playing the lottery is a quick way to become poor. More seriously, the book explains the basic statistical approaches used in a 2011 study showing a link between a child’s brain size and autism. It also teems with interesting statistical facts, such as – there may have been an extra 1,000 deaths in the three months following September 11, 2001 because more people opted to drive rather than fly.

In conclusion, Wheelan persuades the readers of the cognizance first made by a Swedish mathematician and writer AndrejsDunkels: It’s easy to lie with statistics, but it’s hard to tell the truth without them. Given the increasing importance of this field in our everyday lives, odds are it’s worth the extra effort. Wheelan has successfully executed a barrage on the dread of statistics while engaging readers with his humorous conversational style of writing.

Book Review : The Geography Of Transport Systems

Book Review

Jean-Paul Rodrigue, Claude Comtois and Brian Slack
Routledge (Taylor & Francis Group) (2016)

Mobility is fundamental to the socio-economic development of a geography. Transportation has become such an integral part of our daily lives that we as consumers are not able to clearly see transportation as a separate function. Various corporates are heavily dependent on efficient logistics to grab a comfortable portion of the market. Acknowledging this importance of transportation systems, the authors Jean-Paul Rodrigue, Claude Comtois and Brian Slack have worked on this book – The Geography of Transport Systems – to address various areas of concern that the managers and policy makers related to transportation face at present.

Divided into ten chapters, the book focusses on Transport Geography which is defined as a sub-discipline of geography concerned with movements of freight, people and information.

In the first part the authors present a new angle to look at transportations systems. They opine that transportation must be understood as having a spatial network structure and having close relation to commercial geography. In the next section, the authors talk about the necessity and the challenges related to various modes of transportation. The focus of this section is on inter-modal transportation which falls in line with the spatial network concept talked about in the first part. The chapters towards the end of the book describe the relation of transportation with economy, energy & environment and policy. The last chapter focuses on methods of analysisin transport geography.

The beauty of the book is that all the basic concepts of logistics and transportation viz. various modes, network models like hub and spoke, cross-dock, etc. have been covered. However, they have been presented and discussed in a non-traditional way, that links these concepts to the subject of transport geography. The authors mention that transportation is of no value unless it transforms the geographical attributes of freight, people or information, from an origin to destination, conferring on them an added value in the process.

According to authors, transportation plays a major role in international trade as well as at local urban level. It is associated with adding the maximum value in terms of time and location; whether it is passengers or goods that are being transported. The authors analyse urban logistics or city logistics using the concept of Urban Sprawl. This is defined as the spread of city buildings and houses into an area that was earlier a countryside or a less densely populated area.

A unique feature of the book is that it has a separate dedicated chapter on addressing the environmental concerns arising out of transportation. The authors mention that environmental impacts of transportation can be classified as direct, indirect and cumulative impacts. To understand the link between transportation and the environment, the managers must look at the main environmental dimensions of transportation – causes, activities, outputs and end-results of transport systems.

Transportation is a value-adding activity and to do so, it consumes energy just like any other commercial activity does. It accounts for 25 per cent of the world’s energy demand and 61.5 per cent of all the oil used each year. It is important therefore, that technological development in transportation must not only focus on economic and service level performance but also at minimizing fuel consumption and reducing the negative impact of transportation on the environment. This will help in making transportation truly sustainable.

The book clearly distinguishes policy from planning. Policy involves making strategies while planning involves implementation. The outcome of policy and planning is creation of suitable transportation infrastructure, by both public and private agencies. However, the challenge is that policies and plans are continuously changing as they address key changes in society and contemporary issues.

An essential feature of the book is the large number of case studies. Since the authors explain the concepts from new perspectives of transport-geography and sustainability, the inclusion of cases to demonstrate this was imperative and extremely useful. Each chapter has about three case studies incorporated.

This book is a suitable read by practicing managers and academicians who actively engage in research and consulting. However, it is not recommended as a text book for beginners or students in their management course, as to understand the perspectives present in the book, a basic and simple understanding of logistics and transportation is desired. It can definitely be picked up as a reference book.

Ms. Pragya Arya
Assistant Professor – Operations
IILM Institute of Higher Education
Lodhi Road, New Delhi

Book Review – Intercultural Communication for Global Business – How leaders communicate for success by Elizabeth A. Tuleja (2017)

Communication, undeniably, is essential for any business to thrive. Especially in today’s context, when most of the organisations are located in various corners of the world, communication holds an all the more important role as people from different cultures come on a common platform to work together and therefore, ensuring effective exchange of ideas and information among people of diverse backgrounds becomes not only an important but a critical function of the leaders in order to drive success. Elizabeth A. Tuleja’s Intercultural Communication for Global Business – How leaders communicate for success offers a brilliant tool to those who wish to understand various dimensions of inter-culture at play, and importance of intercultural communication, consequently highlighting how to learn and hone communication skills. The book offers an exhaustive account of how the changing world is making intercultural communication imperative to the achievement of business objectives.

Tuleja interestingly draws historical references from classic works of Hall, Hofstede, Trompenaars and Kluckhohn among others to show the importance of intercultural communication in a business set-up and states that today culture and business are interwoven to an extent that “we have reached a point of no return with the cultural imperative – it is unavoidable, it demands our attention, it is an obligation, and it is a necessity if we are to survive.” And therefore, we must learn how to interact with people with higher levels of sensitivity and openness. Though the book acknowledges the plurality of definitions of culture as it is a wide, abstract and complex concept, the author also highlights that peoples’ values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviours may be defined as the building blocks of culture.
Communication in a business environment requires us to comprehend human nature, social behaviour, and mental behaviour, and use communication to interact with others thereby making the four sciences, namely anthropology, sociology, psychology and communication the “four legs” when we “think of the field of management as being the seat of a chair”.

Intriguingly, the author makes the readers reflect upon who they are and better understand various aspects of their identity by focussing on their relationships, jobs, status and how these things define them because according to her, the people with whom we relate and network shape our self-image. Further, she suggests that recognising the different cultures of our own country can be the starting point to understand difference.

The author presents the Value Orientations Model developed by the anthropologists, Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck. According to them, world views may be imperceptible forces which influence our life and profession. In this context, to gain an understanding of people of different cultures, it is essential to understand their view of the world. The Value Orientations Method, therefore, serves as a tool to understand core cultural differences related to five fundamental orientations of the human beings, namely Time Sense, Activity, Social Relations, People and Nature and Human Nature. An understanding of these five aspects facilitates better understanding of the organization.

The author concludes by emphasising that certain norms of global leadership are universal. However, the manner in which they are carried out depends on the context and the situation in different cultures. Hence, people across various civilisations and organisations have distinct criteria for evaluating success of leaders.

Tuleja presents a series of case studies to show how organisations have set-up themselves in various corners of the world and gained prosperity by working with mixed cultures. Simultaneously, the book also offers an account of certain challenges encountered by some organisations while trying to work in cross cultural groups. The various case studies include experiences of Wal-Mart, Nike, Cheerios Commercial, McDonalds, Starbucks among others.

All in all, the book is a must for students and teachers of management, employees and leaders working in various organisations.