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The Review Man

Formerly of Goodreads, now of both words, in the coming times only here?

Currently reading

Survival: A Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature
Margaret Atwood
Lila: An Inquiry Into Morals
Robert M. Pirsig
Simulacra and Simulation (The Body, In Theory: Histories of Cultural Materialism)
Jean Baudrillard, Sheila Faria Glaser
Leaven of Malice
Robertson Davies
The Salterton Trilogy
Robertson Davies
Effi Briest (Penguin Classics)
Theodor Fontane
Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World
Nicholas Ostler
Cases And Materials On The Law Of Torts
Robert M. Solomon
Public Law : Cases Materials and Commentary
Philip Bryden, Craik, Neil, Craig Forcese, Forcese, Craig
A Property Law Reader
Bruce H. Ziff
Yes!: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive - Noah J. Goldstein;Steve J. Martin;Robert B. Cialdini Statistics!

Are you scared yet? Many people are. In fact, statistics have a pretty mixed reputation in popular culture. They're commonly portrayed as a) incredibly boring, b) incredibly confusing, or c) incredibly useful. All three depictions are truthful in a way but also a bit off. Yes, sifting through millions of lines of "data" can be boring, but it's incredible that we can reach useful and interesting conclusions from a mass of "boring" data. Next, statistics can be confusing—but perhaps only to those people who have given up on math in the first place. Statistics make sense and are grounded in reality too: we use similar devices every day (albeit in a less generalized way than would a statistician). Finally, while statistics are useful, thousands of pages of raw numbers are pointless if we can't arrive at a few numbers or facts that accurately summarize the entire data set. I would go so far as to claim that raw data is meaningless without an intelligent mind to sort it.

So statistics are relevant, but maybe only when used correctly. And that's the problem with Yes!. This is a great book full of interesting ideas on persuasion. Readers discover why asking for a small favour may brighten their prospects, why they ought to use certain words and turns of phrase when writing persuasive copy, and why sticky notes are actually quite useful, among other things. I've put into practice more than a few of the ideas found in Yes! and they've been successful thus far.

Each chapter, focused on one persuasive idea, is supported by a study, usually one conducted by the book's authors. The studies reveal interesting statistics which are used to bolster the authors' particular point about persuasion. But I'm a little wary of jumping on the statistics train here. Firstly, there is typically only one study mentioned per chapter. Studies are fine, but we're not told the sample size of the studies or how often they were repeated. This isn't an issue of lack of trust; I'm sure the authors are truthfully reporting the results of their studies, but one wonders how meaningful a statistical result is when the particulars of the study itself are vague. Are the book's results then really "scientifically proven"? It's hard to say whether they are or whether this is just another "easy answers" project in the style of Malcolm Gladwell.

I don't necessarily trust studies. You can probably find studies that prove anything you want to posit (and even some contradictory points too), so ceteris paribus, how much more compelling does one study make your argument? It's no small irony that I remain unconvinced by the authors' statistics about persuasion! I'm a little uncomfortable with accepting a premise simply because one study was conducted. Doesn't necessarily make the conclusion false, but it means I'd be wary of blindly taking it as truth.

Now maybe this is a non-issue for most (certainly for those who find statistics boring in the first place), but I couldn't help but bring it up. And I must stress that the book's results are interesting and probably incredibly useful. I just wish that the statistics emphasis had been a little more concrete.

At most 3 stars; probably 2.5 or fewer.