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Turning Numbers into Knowledge: Mastering the Art of Problem Solving Hardcover – Apr 28 2008

4.9 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews

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Hardcover, Apr 28 2008
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 247 pages
  • Publisher: Analytics Press; Second Edition, Second edition edition (April 28 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0970601913
  • ISBN-13: 978-0970601919
  • Product Dimensions: 17.8 x 2.2 x 25.4 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 726 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #610,749 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


"There is nothing else like this book out there. Nobody who deals with problems where numbers matter — and everybody in today’s world really needs to — should be without it."  —John P. Holdren, past president, American Association for the Advancement of Science, from the Foreword

"A lively, well-written, attractively packaged book on the art of critical thinking."  —Skeptical Inquirer

"Dr. Koomey's book deserves to be widely read and shared, especially by those who take seriously the fragile yet critical role of an informed citizenry in increasingly complex democratic societies."  —Professor Michael Maniates, Allegheny College

From the Author

This book grew out of my experience in training analysts whom I've hired in the past decade. It is written for beginning problem solvers in business, government, consulting, and research professions, and for students of business and public policy. It is also intended for supervisors of such analysts, professors, and entrepreneurs (who may not consider themselves analysts but who need to create analyses to justify their business plans to potential investors). Finally, it covers many topics that journalists who focus on scientific or business topics will find useful.

I’ve included cartoons and other amusing graphics, as well as quotes and examples galore. The chapters are short and to the point, with plenty of further reading in the back for readers who want to explore further. I hope that any person who takes an intelligent interest in the world will enjoy it and find it useful. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.9 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I was expecting a book about quantitative methods and advanced problem solving techniques. What I got, instead, was a book that didn't even discuss numbers until page 111 of a 221 page book, and it was lite on problem solving techniques. Although it was not what I expected it turned out to be one of those rare books that deeply influences and provides fresh perspectives. The book led me on a journey that broke the process of critical thinking into manageable steps. Among the things I learned were:
* Examine key factors, such as information, attention and action within the context of a cycle of actions that begins with goals, and moves through execution, how events in the external world influence the meeting of those goals, an evaluation and refinement of goals. Then the process starts anew.
* Structured methods for getting organized. The techniques given are simple, yet powerful.How to collect and critically analyze data and information, common fallacies and how to spot them. Two of my favorite parts that reinforce these are then single-page chart titled "What Scientists Say, and What They Mean", and Chapter 20 (Uncertainty Principle and the Mass Media).
* The straightforward process of numerical analysis, using relatively simple math techniques to make sense of numbers and turn them into knowledge, is priceless. What makes this part of the book valuable is that the author integrates the preceding chapters that lead you to a critical thinking mindset with common sense and techniques that are within the grasp of high school students. It looks easy, but is testimony to the author's exceptional ability to communicate and inspire.
Overall this book is one of my personal favorites and one that I recommend to colleagues. Another book that complements this one nicely is Systems Thinking: Managing Chaos and Complexity by Jamshid Gharajedaghi.
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Format: Hardcover
This is an entertaining and well written book on some of the do's and don'ts of data analysis. To quote from Dr. Beers review below, "The main emphasis is on the art of data interpretation." Indeed there are useful tools here for performing sanity checks and for asking critical questions about all sorts of data collections. ... The examples are, at best, sketchy and few in number. The anectodes are amusing but not terribly informative. I would have much preferred more concrete examples and further discussion on some technical matters. ....
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Format: Hardcover
"Turning Numbers Into Knowledge: Mastering the Art of Problem Solving" should be required reading for anyone engaged in producing, reading, or analysing information. Based on the title one might assume that I mean numerical information, but that is not the case at all. The basic principles, such as how to sift through information and the importance of documentation of sources, are important parts of any information product. In fact, except for the sections on graphs, tables, normalizing data and a few others, the rest of the book (fully at least three quarters of it) is dedicated to determining what constitutes good information, good techniques, good analysis, good documentation, etc. This is a book on problem solving techniques and analysis of the information products of others.
Filled with useful tools and tips for problem solving under real-life situations it is one of the most useful books available. "Turning Numbers Into Knowledge: Mastering the Art of Problem Solving" is a masterful work in the area of critical analysis and a highly recommended read for anyone involved in creating or using information of any kind.
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Format: Hardcover
I began to enjoy the book almost from the very beginning, the writing style is easy to follow, and its explanations are straight to the point.
Non-scientists & scientists alike will find useful:
1) the methods and ideas for analyzing and testing for plausibility the everyday information encountered in the media,
pointers to finding logical flaws in arguments, and common tricks used by presenters in order to be ambiguous or downright deceptive.
2) simple methods of keeping facts at your fingertips
3) the chapters on life improvement and work-efficiency which made this book pay for itself in a matter of days.
4) helpful links to the Internet and to other books.
Scientists and Engineers in particular will find useful
· The back-of-the-envelope numerical methods. Many sci/engs do not use them enough.
· The description of the scientific process, of which they are (often unconsciously) a part.
· Suggestions on efficient, non-sloppy data analysis. The examples on data analysis are somewhat geared to the field of Energy Analysis, but easy to understand and generalize; in the process I learnt something about that field.
· suggestions for clear, concise presentation of text and figures during presentation of results.
This is also a good book to lend to a student intern or new employee to teach them back of the envelope statistical methods, how to get organized, and good habits, both organizational and data-analysis wise.
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Format: Paperback
Every researcher's first reference book is a comprehensive treatment of the methods, designs and analysis strategies needed for their discipline. This book is a complement rather than a substitute for such a basic research reference. It covers the tactics, organizational strategies--even attitudes--that are needed on a practical level to get research done.

I suggest using this book to do a quick "needs analysis" of your research style. Turn to the Preface and read through the annotated table of contents to identify the research tactic you most need to improve. (Mine was "Establish a Filing System.") You can assimilate the corresponding chapter in a few minutes and begin improving your skills.

With 38 different chapters covering topics that range from overcoming "Beginner's Mind" to "Use the Internet" there is something for every researcher. I can envision an undergraduate research methods professor leading beginning researchers through a needs assessment discussion and assigning them to both remediate their top weakness and sharpen their top strength--knowing all the time that many will be enticed into reading most of the other chapters, too. (I can also imagine a surly senior professor hurling it at his new research assistant with "Don't bother me until you have read this!" I suppose that teaching strategy would work, too. But I won't recommend it.)

The chapters are well organized and easy to learn from. Resources include both recommended books for in-depth exploration of each topic and a large number of relevant web sites for fast-click discovery. The book's own web site is a great place to start.

A great resource to sharpen your research abilities and an enjoyable read, this book is worth its place on your bookshelf.
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