Friday, December 3, 2021

Review of Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

This review was written by Eugene Kernes

Book can be found in:
Genre = Economics, Research
Intriguing Connections = 1) Why Do People Think Differently?, 2) War for Your Attention

Short Description

Elaborate Description


Human thoughts are very complex, making many different ways to access them subject to a variety of limitations.  Big data via the internet is very revealing about people.  What people search for is information that can reveal what they are thinking about.  Providing a different way to learn about people.  There are four ways that big data adds value to research which are 1) new types of data, 2) honest data, 3) zoom on small subsets, and 4) generate causal experiments.  The internet is a primary source of data that uses messy traces, unlike traditional sources of data such as surveys and questionnaires which are very neat.  Big data has many limitations as well, but it can help in a variety of situations.  A problem with big data is that as it enables better predictions about human behavior, the information can be misused by corporations and governments leading to various forms of nefarious discrimination activities.

People tend to be way more honest in their search terms rather than what they claim about themselves.  Depending on the context, they can be honest because of potential consequences, or because there are no consequences.  Surveys are usually anonymous, but people still lie on them because they want to look good.  The desirability bias causes people to lie about who they are relative to who they want to be.  Impersonal data tends to be more honest.  People will confess when they are alone rather than in the presence of others.  Facilitates knowing what people do rather than say they do.

Big data facilitates better understanding of the topics which can lead to better resolution methods.  Big data reveals that individuals are not alone in their insecurities and embarrassing behavior.  Making overt covert suffering.  Google data can highlight many vulnerable people, as they might not want to report their trauma to official sources. 

Offline experiments are time consuming and costly.  The digital space enables cheap and fast randomized experiments.  Gaps in understanding can be filled by testing.  Gaps always exist.  

Big data has limitations.  The numbers measure what can be gathered, not necessarily what is wanted or important.  Models created from the data does not indicate the reason why the model works.  Knowing why models work may not be that important.  But with this limitation, there is no indication of insights that can be gained and ways to improve understanding of the topics.  There are data sources in which do facilitate lying rather than honesty.  When there is no incentive to tell the truth, people make themselves appear better.  Online presence is not always anonymous, and can cater to an audience.


The book is well written with plenty of examples and provides a general understanding of the power and complexity of big data.  There are many topics in this book which are very sensitive, as in very private and personal.  As such, the book may not be appropriate for minors.  

Although big data does open up more opportunities to consider how people think, what matters is how the data is interpreted.  There are a variety of interpretations of the data, of which there can be many misleading interpretations.  Big data does offer lots to think about, but not how to think about what it brings up.

Questions to Consider while Reading the Book
•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?
•Why is it hard to understand what people think about?
•What can the internet reveal that other methods cannot?
•What are the benefits of big data?
•What are the limits of big data?
•What are the limits of traditional sources and the internet as a source?
•How can big data be misused?
•Why do people deceive others?
•Where can people be honest?
•What is the use of experimentation? 
•What do Americans think of racism? 
•Do newspapers have a bias? 
•Do people go into echo chambers on the internet? 

Book Details
Edition ISBN:  9780062390875
Pages to read:   187
Publication:     2017
1st Edition:      2017
Format:           eBook

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    5
Content          4
Overall           4