POP­U­LAR SCI­ENCE

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Living - - BOOKS -

Ev­ery­body Lies

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

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