New book: Numbersense: How to Use Big Data to Your Advantage, by Kaiser Fung ’95 (McGraw Hill)


The world belongs to Big Data, and we’re just living in it — or so it may seem if you read enough media coverage about the breathtaking amount of information being collected and analyzed today.  To be a critical reader of these data-driven stories, you don’t need a degree in statistics, according to author Kaiser Fung ’95. You just have to know how to ask the right questions.

“You don’t need to be able to do analysis in order to be able to interpret it,” said Fung, a statistician in the marketing and advertising business who also teaches practical statistics at New York University. “We don’t need to know how to manufacture a car in order for us to be able to drive it.”

Fung provides a blueprint for dissecting data analysis in his new book, Numbersense, a follow-up to the 2010 release Numbers Rule Your World. Using accessible examples — college rankings, Groupon, and fantasy football, to name a few — Fung explains how to decipher the assumptions behind a particular analysis and apply a healthy dose of skepticism. “If you’re going to be make decisions based on someone else’s data analysis, you better look a few layers deeper,” he said.

Drawing partly on his professional experience, Fung highlights the benefits that data can provide for marketers who aim to identify purchasing habits among people with common traits. But he notes that retailers rarely know enough about you to make customized offers. Loyalty cards and ratings of previous purchases only go so far. “The dirty secret is it’s very difficult,” he said. “If you don’t know much about that person, you’re basically just making a guess.”