Bueno de Mesquita, Ethan and Anthony Fowler. 2021. Thinking Clearly with Data: A Guide to Quantitative Reasoning and Analysis. Princeton University Press.

Available from: Princeton, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and The Seminary Co-op.

An introduction to data science or statistics shouldn’t involve proving complex theorems or memorizing obscure terms and formulas, but that is exactly what most introductory quantitative textbooks emphasize. In contrast, Thinking Clearly with Data focuses, first and foremost, on critical thinking and conceptual understanding in order to teach students how to be better consumers and analysts of the kinds of quantitative information and arguments that they will encounter throughout their lives.

Among much else, the book teaches how to assess whether an observed relationship in data reflects a genuine relationship in the world and, if so, whether it is causal; how to make the most informative comparisons for answering questions; what questions to ask others who are making arguments using quantitative evidence; which statistics are particularly informative or misleading; how quantitative evidence should and shouldn’t influence decision-making; and how to make better decisions by using moral values as well as data. Filled with real-world examples, the book shows how its thinking tools apply to problems in a wide variety of subjects, including elections, civil conflict, crime, terrorism, financial crises, health care, sports, music, and space travel.

Above all else, Thinking Clearly with Data demonstrates why, despite the many benefits of our data-driven age, data can never be a substitute for thinking.

  • An ideal textbook for introductory quantitative methods courses in data science, statistics, political science, economics, psychology, sociology, public policy, and other fields
  • Introduces the basic toolkit of data analysis—including sampling, hypothesis testing, Bayesian inference, regression, experiments, instrumental variables, differences in differences, and regression discontinuity
  • Uses real-world examples and data from a wide variety of subjects
    Includes practice questions and data exercises


“Whether you are a social scientist engaged in research, an attorney pleading a case, or a patient deciding on a medical treatment, you need to read Thinking Clearly with Data. This timely—and useful—book for making decisions in the data-rich twenty-first century is one that everyone who thinks about evidence should read.”—Lynn Vavreck, University of California, Los Angeles

“Witty, erudite, and chock-full of memorable and engaging examples, Thinking Clearly with Data brings core statistical ideas to life. The insights it offers are helpful not only to scholars in search of creative research strategies but also to readers who are simply trying to make sensible everyday decisions on topics from parenting to personal finance.”—Donald P. Green, Columbia University

“A common phrase one hears in public life is that correlations and causality are the same but different. But how are they the same and how exactly do they differ? Thinking Clearly with Data threads a needle between two advanced subjects by clearly laying out a theory of both. This book is destined to become a classic and, if we are lucky, will be on every social scientist’s shelf.”—Scott Cunningham, Baylor University

“By making thinking the primary focus in teaching data analysis, Thinking Clearly with Data fills a big need.”—Dustin Tingley, Harvard University

Thinking Clearly with Data gives readers the necessary tools to be critical consumers of claims that others make based on data, and even to start making credible claims based on data themselves.”—Andy Eggers, University of Chicago