The Captain's Picks: 'Exploratory Data Analysis'; Tukey, John Wilder (1977)

To continue where we left you last week, the Captain would like to review another influential book as part of this series of "The Captain's Picks." The book we have chosen is "Exploring Data Analysis" by John Tukey, written in 1977. This book, though considerably old, still contains some relevant definitions and tips on visualizing data today. For example, in the preface, the book "exists to expose its readers and users to a considerable variety of techniques for looking more effectively at one's data."  As defined by Tukey himself, the basic objective of data visualization is to provide an efficient graphical display for summarizing and reasoning about quantitative information.

The book begins from chapters 1-4 on graphing data, and then goes on to describe other topics such as delineating scatter plots, smoothing sequences, and assessing distributions, among others. Some of the vocabulary is complicated, such as "flog", "froot", and "hinge", however they are clearly defined and add to charm of the book. It is worthwhile to go back over the book, as you can be sure you may have missed something, as it was written in a didactic style.

'Exploratory Data Analysis' is an attitude, a state of flexibility, a willingness to look for those things that we believe are not there, as well as those we believe to be there.

The book describes many specific methods and a general approach, the latter being quite detective in nature. The author has a sweet spot for simplicity, which are exemplified in his clear and concise statements all throughout. We enjoyed his in-depth analysis, as well as the value placed on accuracy. If there was a misplaced digit, it wasn't that big of a deal; but had it been a decimal point, it would be serious. In order to get a better understanding of Tukey's work, it might be worthwhile completing the examples outlined in each chapter as well as solving the problems located at the end of each chapter.

To conclude, Psychologists (and Marketers alike) who adopt methods of the sort proposed by Tukey, and who adopt his general approach to data analysis, may discover more in their data and get greater enjoyment while analyzing their data. You can order the book here on Amazon.


The Captain.