Book Review : Wrong

Why is it that the most contentious issues produce the least conclusive arguments?

Published: Apr 2, 2011 06:06:25 AM IST
Updated: Apr 1, 2011 05:00:48 PM IST
Book Review : Wrong

Statins are good for the heart. No, they have marginal use and are known to damage the liver. The average temperature across the world has gone up. No, we don’t know how that data was extrapolated. Sachin Tendulkar is the greatest batsman India has produced. Then why does India lose so many matches in which he scores a century? Why is it that the most contentious issues produce the least conclusive arguments? This bothers David Freedman no end. In his book Wrong, experts come in for sharp criticism.

The book’s subtitle explains it all. It says: ‘Why Experts Keep Failing Us — And How to Know When Not to Trust Them’. Take, for instance, patients with irregular heartbeats. Freedman says a renowned cardiologist told him that cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)  is useless because very few people can administer it properly. Using an automated external defibrillator (AED) is a surer way. Wrong, it turns out, according to the book. AED’s success rate in preventing cardiac arrests varies wildly. Freedman comes across a finding by American Heart Association that says those suffering from a fibrillating heart are up to three times likely to survive if they get a CPR while waiting for defibrillation.  Freedman’s point is simple: CPR is a life-saving issue and to have such confusion around it is shocking.

He skewers scientists, economists, stock market gurus (CNBC’s Jim Cramer gets special attention) and management theorists. He shows that statistics are misused. He explains that many things can’t be quantified or we are measuring them the wrong way. Such findings should not be inflicted on people because this results in bad choices. He is correct when he says that lay people should not get swayed just because a research says it is scientific.

Wrong: Why Experts Keep Failing Us — And How to Know When Not to Trust Them; Author: David H. Freedman; Price: Rs. 595; Pages: 295; Publisher: Little Brown

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(This story appears in the 08 April, 2011 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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