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Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error Paperback – Dec 16 2010

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Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error + Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts + On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You're Not
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd; Reprint edition (Dec 16 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061176052
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061176050
  • Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 2.4 x 20.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 562 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #20,304 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


“A mirthful and wise diagnosis of what ails us: Schulz dances us through science, psychology, and literature in a sparkling history of (and ode to) human error.” (Publishers Weekly)

From the Back Cover

To err is human. Yet most of us go through life assuming (and sometimes insisting) that we are right about nearly everything, from the origins of the universe to how to load the dishwasher. In Being Wrong, journalist Kathryn Schulz explores why we find it so gratifying to be right and so maddening to be mistaken. Drawing on thinkers as varied as Augustine, Darwin, Freud, Gertrude Stein, Alan Greenspan, and Groucho Marx, she shows that error is both a given and a gift—one that can transform our worldviews, our relationships, and ourselves.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Princess Lucy on May 27 2010
Format: Hardcover
Look back at the last argument you had with your loved one. Remember the things you said, and how you said them, simply to prove you were right. It is so easy to see the error in others and be blind to it in ourselves.

In Being Wrong: Adventures In The Margin Of Error, Kathryn Schulz takes you on a journey through the world of "wrongology". From the trivial (getting the time wrong for a reservation at a restaurant) to the life threatening (medical errors), Ms. Schulz examines the importance of accepting the inevitability of error and understanding the value of it in our lives.

Ultimately, it is wrongness, not rightness, that can teach us who we are. It is the ability to accept responsibility for our errors and learn from them that allows us as to grow and develop as individuals, organizations and nations.

Take my advice and read this book. I know you'll enjoy it because I'm never wrong.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Tinsel on Aug. 9 2011
Format: Paperback
Just really, really liked it. It's smart, funny, wise, ironic, generous and fun. I'm more aware of the mistakes I make, and more forgiving of myself when I make them. A good read.
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By FitMe Training on Sept. 13 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Great book. Really recommending reading it. Wish I didn't had to type 20 wards when I don't have anything to say
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Rodge TOP 50 REVIEWER on July 23 2011
Format: Paperback
This book is a very entertaining and learned tour of wrongness and error in human history and psychology. However, look elsewhere for any kind of strong advice about how to handle your error-prone ways. This book just proves that the only remedy, seemingly, is to be philosophical about it and move along. There's really nothing else that can be done.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 184 reviews
166 of 168 people found the following review helpful
A Tour of Why and How We Err (and Why It May Be a Good Thing) March 30 2010
By Kevin Currie-Knight - Published on
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product
To err, we hear, is human. But if that is true, then why do we take erring so hard? This is the question Kathryn Schultz tries to get at in her book, Being Wrong. The first section analyzes error by recounting what philosophers, psychologists and others have thought about what it is and why it happens. Next, we examines the factors that lead us to err: senses deceive us, reason is easily influenced by extra-rational factors, we trust experts we like instead of those who may be telling the truth, etc. The third section explores what it feels like to be wrong: we may get embarrassed, defensive, heartbroken, mystified, angry. And lastly, the author reveals why it is she believes error should be seen not as a gaffe to be avoided, but a gaffe that should be embraced and accepted as an an inevitable part of being a finite and dynamic human.

First, I must say something I very rarely do about a book: I never once found this one repetitive or unnecessarily long. Each section, and chapter within it, is about a different aspect of error that was not discussed before, from how philosophers conceive of error, to the social factors that influence error, to our amazing capacity to deny even obvious error. And the real-world examples she chooses to illustrate all of these things are humorous, relateble, and sometimes a bit lamentable.

And what is the author's unique theory about erring? The author writes first that erring is an inevitable part of being human. We are finite animals for whom probability is as close as we can come to certainty (even though certainty is what we want). Since life demands that we make decisions based on what we think will happen in the future, it is simply inevitable that some of these will be wrong. That is not and should not be a recipe for skepticism, which is a lazy attempt to fend off error. The author argues that the only way to crack down on error, paradoxically, is to admit its inevitability. Being aware of the mistakes we make that lead to error is the only way to curb it: recognize that fallibility is a part of life (not stupidity), make an effort to 'hear the other side,' phrase your predictions provisionally and treat them as such. The more we realize that error is a human quality that leads to opportunities of growth, the more we can, to some degree or other, embrace it as part of who we are.

And what about if we didn't err? Well, if we didn't err, we couldn't ever change or grow (as change and growth are byproducts of trying to become better and closer to the truth). If we didn't err, then life would be a whole lot more predictable than it is, having good and bad repercussions. If we didn't err, we would never experience surprise or have reason to reflect or think deeply. In short, if we didn't err, we simply wouldn't be anything recognized, for good or worse, as human.

The only complaint I have about this book, as interesting and entertaining as it is, is that the author's "thesis" takes up only about 40 pages in a 340 page book, and comes only at the end. I would like her to have interwoven this point amongst all or many of the chapters, as it is a point which is not only highly interesting and counter-intuitive, but it could have served to really tie the book together.

Other than that, strongly recommended.
217 of 236 people found the following review helpful
A crafty - albeit a tad long-winded, preachy - analysis of being human. 3.5 Stars***^* April 26 2010
By Paul Stuart - Published on
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product
One thing is for certain: Kathryn Schulz is a heckuva' writer. Her brilliant interchange between humor and articulation is the stuff of greatness. Moreover - and perhaps a by-product of Schulz' mastery in presentation - there are few (if any) wasted words in this text. While many books almost goad you into skimming every 2nd or 3rd word, 'Being Wrong' certainly makes every word count. For a guy with the attention span of a billy goat grazing grass, keeping me reading every word is no small feat.

There is a tradeoff in such density in value. 'Being Wrong' tends to see-saw between light analogy to heavy exploration almost without warning, making for a staccato transition between example and execution. The philosophical arguments emerge as bloated at times, the case studies a tad soft and looooong. Word economy clearly has its strengths and weaknesses.

Thus, I echo other reviewers in that this book might've been better served both shorter and as a potential essay. Amen.

Going deeper down the content rabbit hole, it's hard to ignore Schulz' near-frequent lapses into political examples dripping with sarcasm favoring a particular perspective only. Perhaps I'm a stickler, but there something grossly unfit about an advertised objective analysis of 'wrong' justified through political opinion. After the fifth instance of this justification, I admittedly began to question the overarching arguments contained in the book. (I could care less about who you vote/d for; just don't put square peg into round hole to get the point across, ad nauseum.)

A couple hundred pages in, it dawned upon me that Schulz based her thesis - that recognition of wrong is against human norms while a precursor to personal and intellectual growth - on subjective historical application sans any true citation. I loved her first third of the book (the arguments were sound), but then later realized that none of it was based on anything other than Schulz' fit of historical circumstance to her view of the human experience. I again point to her being a fantastic writer; I simply wanted a price tag on that fresh piece of intellectual meat.

Related - and a minor but notable sticking point: I reviewed this book thinking it literally an exploration on 'margin of error,' a social scientific term meant to explain normal error distribution and statistical significance stemming from it. This book is anything but scientific. Just a warning for those looking for a fix in that area.

Please don't flame, 'un-helpful' this review for pointing out these two flaws (political-centric, no 'margin of error') above. I found them important contributions in helping folks determine expectations pre-purchase.

In sum, 'Being Wrong' is a very well written, articulate read...but does so being a tad dense and unsubstantiated and/or preachy argumentatively. I'd give this 3.5 stars if I could.
54 of 56 people found the following review helpful
Being wrong is normal! May 27 2010
By Rob S. - Published on
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product
This book caught my eye immediately. Who hasn't been embarrassed to admit being wrong? How often have you witnessed (or been part of) senseless arguments because neither side, once they've become entrenched in their position, are willing to back down or find a middle ground to resolve things?

I originally got this book as I was hoping for answers on how to deal with what I admit to be sometimes irrational behaviour to avoid admitting wrongness. I thought perhaps I'd get some advice on how to approach this sensitive topic with others (particularly in a business setting.) If you're looking for advice on dos and don'ts, some sort of behavioural checklist to overcome this sensation, then that's not what this book is about. (and the author says as much in her introduction.)

In a way though, even without a list of to-dos, the book has helped me feel more at ease about being wrong. Through stories shared of human error, through the exploration of just how our senses work and how our belief systems can fail us, through an examination of how we make decisions and evaluation evidence (and why it makes sense to do it that way), and examples where it actually feels good to be wrong (optical illusions, magic tricks), I started to come to terms on just how being wrong is perfectly "normal" and a part of who we are, and started to move away from the belief that being wrong meant I was sloppy, or stupid, or ignorant. It makes sense that our brains would want to take shortcuts for efficiency sake, and it makes sense that sometimes those shortcuts will be off. Plus looking at how often decisions are being made at the subconscious level underscores how much being fallible is hardwired into our system.

I thought the book was a great read, if nothing else, for the journey it took me through.
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
Enlightening and informative; not an easy read April 4 2010
By southernfool - Published on
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Kathryn Schulz does an excellent job of covering a tricky topic. The foundation for most of her observations comes from great philosophers, thinkers, and psychologists of the past and present, mixed with a healthy dose of classic literature and observations from its authors. This at times made the book a little difficult for me to traverse, but in the end the longer reading time balanced nicely with the thoroughness of the arguments (translation: it was worth the extra work). My biggest joys in reading came from the wide variety of interesting references, experiences, case studies, stories, and anecdotes that the author used to illustrate points throughout the book. I can appreciate the difficulty in researching and applying this information to fit the narrative so nicely.

It could be due to my own misplaced expectations, but I thought the book wandered a little bit... sort of floating around like a boat does when its anchor isn't quite big enough or doesn't catch on the bottom. She does go to great lengths in the beginning to spell out all the things the book is not, but I needed some more direction from her on what she hoped to accomplish. I didn't want to read a long, complex book just for intellectual kicks, so I drafted a rough idea (in my mind) of what I needed to take away from all the information when I finally did reach the end. Overall, this is a thought-provoking work on understanding all the facets of error, and one I comfortably recommend.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Using Error To Become Better Decision Makers Feb. 1 2011
By James J Abodeely - Published on
Format: Paperback
Kathryn Schulz's book immediately caught my eye as there are few professions where error plays such a large role as the investment profession. The uncertain nature of markets and the role of probabilities in good investment decision making make understanding how, when, and why we err an essential skill for good money managers. As Schulz points out, "if you want to be right, or improve the odds, you have to start by acknowledging your fallibility, deliberately seeking out your mistakes, and figuring out what caused you to make them." The book, while long-winded in parts, is very well written and well supported.

We often tell ourselves that in order to counter dangerous Herd Behavior, we must "think for ourselves." Independent thought is clearly a worthwhile endeavor, however, it in no way protects us from error. The fact is, we are "profoundly dependent on other people's minds"-- even specialists and experts rely constantly on other people's knowledge-- we (I'm putting myself in this category) are often obliged to take on faith the most basic precepts of our own fields. And as Schulz points out, this both a very good and often very dangerous thing. Imagine having to "relearn" in order to accept as true the most basic concepts of investing or economic theory. We'd never have progress. But at the same time, that assumed knowledge can be source of tremendous error. There are obvious examples from history and science which Schulz profiles, from the Flat Earth Society to the Swiss Anti-suffragist movement to the End-of-The-World-Is-Here Millerites.

Most literature in behavioral finance and the psychology of investing describe why our past errors are hard for us to recall-- our memories are less a factual recording of events and more a perception of the physical and emotional experience. But Schulz takes it to the next level, where not only the fullness of our past mistakes are concealed from us, but our current mistakes remain invisible to us. There is no experience of being wrong, while it is happening, we are oblivious to it-- Schulz gives the fantastic imagery of Wily Coyote hovering above the cliff, legs still running-- there is an experience of realizing that we are wrong.

Schulz points out the actual moment of being wrong is short and transient, thus hard to learn from. Herein lies the value of recording your thoughts, forecasts, predictions (via a blog or journal), etc. not just so you can be on record, but so that record can serve as a learning vehicle, to avoid making mistakes or more positively, to be able to "recycle the knowledge we've gained."

Schulz accurately highlights another area where our cultural norms prevent us from truly recognizing and learning from error, or at the very least, alerting us to possible flaws in our belief system. The disagreement deficit is perhaps the mirror image of relying on the knowledge of others. In as much as we we tend to automatically accept information from people we trust, we tend to automatically reject information from people who are unfamiliar, disagreeable, or confrontational. Perhaps, doing both to our detriment.

The disagreement deficit also has a connection to the dreaded Groupthink-- something that anybody who has ever served on a committee knows all to well. With the prevalence of investment committees making decisions in organizations large and small, there is a growing literature on ways to avoid many of the pitfalls and this book add nicely to that body of work.

Schulz is at her best when she keenly observes "certainty is lethal to two of our most redeeming and humane qualities, imagination and empathy." The chapter on the allure of certainty is particularly compelling. Here she also gives the reader some effective strategies for getting other people to actually listen to and think that what you say might be right-- by introducing doubt from the get go when speaking-- "I could be wrong here, but..." This disarming phrase, actually causes people to listen to you--

Lastly, I particularly benefited from Schulz's discussion of the web of our belief system and what happens when we come to understand something as false that then has far reaching impact on our other beliefs. This study of "how wrong" and which beliefs we must discard and which we can hold onto digs deep.

Surprisingly, after reading the book, I also found myself less invested in "being right" about small petty things that don't really matter. This made for more pleasant interactions will sorts of people from clients to coworkers to family members.

I highly recommend this book to those who are truly interested in digging deeper into how and why we make mistakes and how to effectively use error to become better decision makers and better people.