So You Want to Talk About Race review

So You Want to Talk About RaceSo You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am racist.

That’s a hard sentence to write! But even though I try not to be, I undoubtedly have racist attitudes (consciously or subconsciously) because I live in a culture of white supremacy.

This was a hard book to read. No one (well, almost no one) wants to be called “racist”, so much so that people seem to think calling someone racist is worse than acts of racism! But burying your head in the sand and shutting down whenever race is discussed is not going to lead to any progress, and you’re just going to keep harming people even if it’s not intentional.

The book is nicely laid out – each chapter is about a different topic (privilege, police brutality, affirmative action, cultural appropriation, microaggressions, etc.) and I definitely learned about each of these. It’s well worth reading, and I plan to come back to it in a few months and read it again.

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The Only Rule Is It Has to Work: Our Wild Experiment Building a New Kind of Baseball Team review

The Only Rule Is It Has to Work: Our Wild Experiment Building a New Kind of Baseball TeamThe Only Rule Is It Has to Work: Our Wild Experiment Building a New Kind of Baseball Team by Ben Lindbergh

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a great book. Maybe it’s because I read it during coronavirus and baseball isn’t around, but reading about two sabermetricians taking over an independent league team was just what I needed. The book is very well-written, and I could honestly see it being a movie some day. The two authors did want to try some crazy things, but they approached the project with humility, and it was just a really interesting read.

Also, randomly, the first openly gay professional baseball player was on their team, mostly by coincidence! Also it quotes Daniel Tiger, which made me laugh.

Highly recommended if you’re at all into baseball!

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The Power of Experiments: Decision Making in a Data-Driven World review

The Power of Experiments: Decision Making in a Data-Driven WorldThe Power of Experiments: Decision Making in a Data-Driven World by Michael Luca

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was fine enough. It’s all about how companies and governments should do experiments rather than using their intuition about what they think will work. There’s some amount of useful stuff if you’re actually in a position to do such things, but other than that the book is mostly examples of places that have done experiments. A few interesting points:

– The British government did an experiment on the wording they used on letters to people that hadn’t paid their taxes. Turns out the most effective wording to get people to pay their taxes is to include something like “9 out of 10 people in the UK pay their taxes on time. You are in the very small minority of people who haven’t yet.” The effect is kinda small (the number of people who pay goes up from 35% to 37%), but of course in aggregate that adds up to a lot of money!
– For whether people want to be an organ donor, if it’s an opt-in system 4-28% will sign up, but in an opt-out system 86-100%, so the default has a huge effect! But a lot of people think it’s possibly unethical to sign people up by default. A thought was to move to “active choice”, where the state explicitly asks people whether they want to be organ donors (so there’s no default), but after doing an experiment fewer people signed up than even in the opt-in system!
– There’s a whole chapter about racial bias on Airbnb, starting with the story of an African-American man trying to book a room but being repeatedly rejected, probably because of his race. The authors ran an experiment sending a bunch of rental inquiries that were identical except for the name – half were from (fake) guests with first names common among white people (“Brett”, ‘Todd”) and half were from fake guests with first names common among black people (“Darnell”, “Jamal”). No photos were included for simplicity. I’m guessing at this point you will not be shocked to read that the names common among black people got 16% fewer yeses from hosts. (a similar study has been done with resumes for jobs (here’s the original PDF), and the results were similar but the effect was 3 times as large!) Once this study was published, Airbnb was pretty embarrassed and ran some experiments to try to reduce discrimination, but refused to say what experiments they had run or what the results were.

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