The one-sentence summary

Numbers can ruin lives. They are repeatedly misused and misunderstood, so make sure you understand your data properly.


  • The author purports to dispense fast and powerful relief from scaremongering journalists, pill-pushing nutritionists, flaky statistics and evil pharmaceutical corporations.
  • He dismantles the claims of foolish quacks, via the credence they are given in the mainstream media, and the tricks of the food supplements industry. Scientists and doctors are outnumbered and outgunned by vast armies of individuals who feel entitled to pass judgement on matters of evidence without obtaining a basic understanding of the issues.
  • Stories are often the basis of scientific and medical reporting, but the plural of anecdote is not data. Few public examples bear relation to the true issues.
  • People are more likely to pay for advice when they have paid for it, so studies verify that the more expensive something is, the more effective it is perceived to be.
  • Things can happen at the same time, but that is weak, circumstantial evidence for causation.


  • When an honest person speaks, they say only what they believe to be true (liars do the opposite of course). Bullshitters are on neither side. They don’t care if they are they describe reality correctly, so long as they can get away with whatever suits their purpose. The ‘opportunity cost’ of this is vast.
  • Cargo-cult science surrounds itself with all the paraphernalia of science without truly having any. This is based on the cargo cults in the war who saw planes landing with many of the things they desired, and subsequently set up landing strips, wore headphones and antennae made of wood, and waited for more planes. None came.
  • PR agencies collude with journalists to generate articles that carry more weight than advertising, or replace it if advertising is not allowed. It also circumnavigates tough restrictions on what can be claimed on packaging, because journalism isn’t subject to such rules.
  • The real purpose of the scientific method is to make sure nature hasn’t misled you into thinking you know something you actually don’t know, but clever people believe stupid things when it is presented in a ‘sciencey’ way.
  • Numbers can ruin lives. They are repeatedly misused and misunderstood. This is unfortunate in journalism, but can be fatal in medicine.


  • It is not a textbook. You need to use the medical and scientific points and apply them in a business context, because they are analogous.