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Books and articles that matter

This contribution is by Associate Dean for Graduate Programs Jeffrey Ringuest

"A generation ago, quants turned finance upside down. Now they're mapping out ad campaigns and building new businesses from mountains of personal data." So declared a January 2006 Business Week article: "Math Will Rock Your World." Now comes Ian Ayres's Super Crunchers: Why Thinking-By-Numbers Is the New Way to Be Smart (Bantam Books, 2007).

An attorney and econometrician, Ayres does a masterful job of explaining the power and nuances of number-crunching in business, medicine, sports and more. His style is rigorous and precise, yet lively and entertaining (no kidding), and he makes a compelling case for why businesses and individuals must start "thinking-by-numbers."

So who are the "Super Crunchers"? They are the organizations that analyze massive databases at incredible speeds to gain greater insights into how you and I behave. They include businesses like Google, Netflix, and eHarmony (each of these companies tries to "guess" what we are looking for), and what they know about our buying habits and interests is amazing and more than a little frightening.

But super crunching is not limited to business. Ayres details the development of evidence-based medicine and how it changes what physicians do. Did you know that there is no evidence-based reason for an annual physical? Yet doctors perform them and insurers readily pay for them. And, to keep things interesting, Ayres offers examples of good and bad number crunching from wine ratings to sports.

As for sports, if you're watching the snow fly and pining for the "crack of the bat" and the opening of baseball season, there's no better numbers read than Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game (Michael Lewis, W. W. Norton & Company, 2004). Play ball!

 

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