Seth Stephens-davidowitz Bloomsbury; €25.99
LYING appears to be an inescapable part of human nature. Indeed, it seems unlikely that we could continue to live in relative harmony with one another if we did not lie from time to time. This provocative book by Seth Stephens-davidowitz aims to reveal the scale and magnitude of the lies that we tell ourselves, as well as other people.
To begin with, he questions the value of information provided by traditional forms of empirical survey. He notes, for example, that more than 90pc of college professors have regularly claimed to be producing “above-average” academic work. As the author points out, this is a statistical impossibility that suggests self-delusion, or a basic lack of honesty — or, perhaps, both.
Stephens-davidowitz believes there is now a more accurate way to access the truth about what human beings are really thinking and doing. That is by analysing the enormous amount of data which billions of individual searches on the internet have thrown up. The author, who is a former data scientist with Google, believes these searches are fuelled by what he calls “the digital truth serum”: the anonymity which permits people to admit online to things that they would never dream of acknowledging anywhere else.
Not surprisingly, some of the more intriguing revelations generated by this data concern our sexual preoccupations. From the available data, it appears that many more wives and girlfriends worry that their husbands or boyfriends might be gay than suspect they might be cheating. Meanwhile, a high proportion of men who view gay porn sites also visit sites featuring tests that purport to establish whether or not they are really homosexual.
Some of the author’s findings confirm conventional wisdoms. We might predict, for instance, that many men are worried about how well endowed they are. But we could still be amazed by the sheer number of those seeking reassurance on this matter.
The good news for men is that this seems to be much less of an issue for their girlfriends or wives. In fact, a more common complaint made by women on the web is that their