How to Read Numbers is a very engaging and practical book that discusses the different ways in which statistics in the news can be misleading, and how to get a more objective perspective of the reality being presented. In some 22 chapters, Tom and David Chivers explain how less-than-representative and biased samples; rankings; forecasting; and other statistical phenomena are being abused in the media in ways majority of us fail to realize.
The authors wrestle with how truth is grossly lacking within what is arguably one of contemporary society’s most important institutions, the media. Given how influential the media is in providing information and molding the mindset of people around the world, there is little doubt that this is a very relevant book. Indeed, reading Numbers makes one wonder if today does not mirror the time when Isaiah prophesied about truth being “fallen in the street” (Isaiah 59:14).
The Chivers argue that very often the news is incomplete without statistics. Yet, presumably due to marketing reasons, the numbers are often presented in ways that misrepresent the truth. It is therefore imperative that consumers of the news are able to efficiently analyze statistics in the news, sift truth from fallacy, and make decisions based on the whole truth, not skewed perspectives. Using multiple examples in every chapter, the authors highlight how the truth is being stretched, and more importantly, ways in which this can be corrected.
Numbers resonates deeply with me because it highlights the need for alertness and discernment, without being overly suspicious, as I seek to be informed through the media. This is especially important to my leadership because if I become mislead by the media, I will end up misleading my followers. That would be an instance of the blind leading the blind that is very close to home.
Additionally, the Chivers’ explanation of Simpson’s paradox alludes to what has generally been referred to as a numbers game. The prevalence of this syndrome is an important example of front-stage and back-stage leadership, as Simon Walker describes it, and represents a significant call to a leadership characterized by transparency, humility, long-term thinking and service. In the Garden of Gethsemane, moments before His crucifixion, Jesus demonstrated transparency to His disciples by expressing how overwhelmed He was with sorrow (Matthew 26:38). This expression of ‘weakness’ completely differs from the ‘perfect image’ many of today’s leaders usually seek to portray. If this scenario was portrayed in statistical terms, it would probably be presented in ‘low numbers’ and not the high numbers usually presented by contemporary leaders through the media. Thankfully, those who humbly present the truth about their situations, even if the image is not an appealing one, will be vindicated by God, for He gives grace to the humble (James 4:6).
In conclusion, Numbers is important to me because if highlights how a correlation between two variables does not automatically imply that one causes the other. But, instead, it could mean the presence of a third, possibly unmentioned variable, that is responsible for the phenomenon under investigation. This implies that critical and broad thinking are indispensable to reading numbers and providing effective leadership.
 Chivers, Tom and David Chivers. How to Read Numbers: A Guide to Statistics in the News (and Knowing when to Trust them. (Weinfeld and Nicholson, 2021), p.14.
 Walker, Simon P. Leading out of Who You Are: Discovering the Secret of Undefended Leadership. (Carlisle: Piquant, 2007).