An Adventure in Statistics: The Reality Enigma

Andy Field (Illustrated by James Iles)
Sage Publishing 2016, 768 pages
PRICE (PAPERBACK) £32.99 ISBN 978-1-4462-1045-1

An Adventure in StatisticsWhen I offered to review this book I was under the impression that it was a popular science statistics book. I was wrong! It is actually a full-blown textbook, albeit one designed to fulfil Professor Field’s mission to ‘make statistics a bit more pleasant to learn’. Despite my misapprehension I read the volume and generally enjoyed the experience. The book covers the ground one would expect in a statistics textbook, but Professor Field uses a cartoon based story to communicate statistical material. The story follows Zach as he attempts to find the love of his life, Alice, and save the world.

No prior knowledge of statistics is assumed; indeed, a lot of trouble is taken to establish a baseline of statistics knowledge of how the research process works, and some more general mathematical rules such as BODMAS. Throughout the book are sprinkled prominent ‘Zach’s Facts’ which precis specific topics, there is also a helpful glossary at the end of the book. A number of exercises are included in each chapter, and there are online resources available to support further study.

Once the background material is underway, Zach continues his search for Alice, he occasionally receives some ‘Milton’s Meowsing’ – letters apparently from a cat – which explain particular concepts or provide more information. Zach’s search takes us through various statistical topics. One of my favourites is the Presenting Data chapter. The definition of terms such as ‘abscissa’ and ‘ordinate’ merely set the scene, the meat of the chapter comprises a discussion of the pros and cons of different graphs for different circumstances. The author rips to shreds a range of typical graphs that mislead or confuse the reader, and demonstrates how the same data can be presented much more clearly; I certainly intend to put these lessons into practice. Interestingly, given the preponderance of pie-charts in business presentations, they are demonstrated to be unhelpful at best. Of course, should a reader have a desire to mislead or bamboozle, then this chapter would also be an invaluable guide!

The book includes a number of useful elements, such as an ‘overview’ of a range of statistical processes, which gives a flow chart giving a step-by-step guide for the process in question. There are also some of ‘Alice’s Lab Notes’, which tend to illustrate the solution of a problem from start-to-finish. ‘Reality Checks’ throughout the book try to pull together different themes, and there are a range of statistical tables included as appendices, so is relatively self-contained.

Reviewing this book was an interesting journey, and whilst I did not engage that well with the story of Zach, perhaps because I am not a cartoon aficionado, I do feel that Professor Field has used really clear language to explain statistics, common misconceptions and mistakes, and this statistical content did engage me. I can easily imagine using the book in my own work in the future. If the reader is happy with the cartoon based writing style, then I suspect it would be an ideal course in statistics for a keen beginner, it could also be used as a textbook by an enthusiastic statistics teacher.

My favourite quote from the book, which I feel I must share with the readers of Mathematics Today, is ‘Reality Check 14.1: How to incapacitate Zombies and Vampires’. Some reality ….

Edward Rochead CMath CSci FIMA
Dstl Platform Systems Division

The opinions expressed in this review are not necessarily those of Dstl.

Book review published directly onto IMA website (October 2017)


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